Pregame rituals of the pros
Can't race without your lucky socks? Or maybe you're convinced that you absolutely need steel cut oats with three shakes of cinnamon before a big event. Join the club.
Superstition and sport go together like bats and balls -- even among the all time greats. Heck, even His Airness himself famously wore his University of North Carolina shorts under his uniform in every single game of his legendary career. And have you ever noticed that Serena Williams has to bounce the ball five times before her first serve, then twice before her second serve? Yep. Rituals.
"Most athletes I've spoken to have little rituals and superstitions that they do," said Thomas Newmark, MD, the president of the International Society of Sports Psychiatrists. "Sports are filled with elements beyond your control. Rituals, lucky charms, and superstitions give you little things you can control. It's something you can do that is familiar and soothing that can help you control anxiety ... and to that end, maybe perform better."
Here are some of Newmark's favorite classic pregame rituals, and a few that athletes around the sports world shared with us:
• Olympic BMX medalist and three-time mountain bike 4x world champion Jill Kintner follows the same get-psyched sequence before a big run: "I ride up the chairlift with coach, have a few laughs, drink half a Red Bull energy shot 20 minutes before my start, get to the top of the mountain, warm up for 10 to 15 minutes, check my goggles, shoes, elbow pads, do a few rock flicks with my front wheel, then get in the gate and race."
• The moment she wakes up on game day, professional snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler fills her head with positive thoughts from her library of inspirational books -- her current favorite race morning read is "The Way of the Peaceful Warrior" by Dan Millman.
• Hall of Famer Wade Boggs, former third baseman for the Red Sox, was notoriously superstitious and earned the nickname "Chicken Man" for eating chicken before each game. He also drew the word Chai (Hebrew word for life) in the dirt before taking his turn at bat.
• Triple world Ironman champion Chrissie Wellington likes to watch lighthearted, heartwarming DVDs the night before a race -- her favorite film is "Seabiscuit," which is what she named her race bike. Before a race, Wellington also writes Rudyard Kipling's inspirational poem "If" on her water bottles.
• Before the kickoff of each soccer game during the 1998 World Cup, French defender Laurent Blac planted a kiss on the shaven pate of goalkeeper Fabien Barthez. (It seems to have worked; they won).
• On the training rides leading into competition, three-time mountain biking 24-hour solo world champion Rebecca Rusch gives her neighbors something to talk about by pretending the two little stone pillars on each side of her driveway are a finish line. As she rolls in, she visualizes herself crossing the line well ahead of the competition and tossing her hands in the air as she "wins."
• One of the quirkiest athletes was former New York Mets reliever Steven John "Turk" Wendell, known for always leaping over the baselines when walking to the mound, and brushing his teeth between innings.
• Mia Hamm always has to tie her right over her left when she ties shoes or she gets very anxious.