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Sports Psychology - Superstitions Unpacked

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A key factor for any coach and athlete/player relationship is sharing rapport. How much time do you spend being actively engaged with your athletes and players, determining the impact of psychology on how they perform? There’s a lot to be gained by striking up a conversation and establishing rapport. Consider this example where a talented county Gaelic football player (a traditional Irish Sport) rather sheepishly admitted to me that upwards of 70% of his focus could be disrupted if he forgot to pack his 'lucky' boots. No other boots would suffice.

A traditional Irish Sport. Credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

So why is this important? Because the player was captain of his county and also took every 'free' (set piece kicks towards goal), hence in terms of both influence and productivity he was arguably the most important player on the team. He was preparing to play in an Ulster final in front of thousands of fans, but what if during the previous semi-final he had missed a game-defining kick due to 70% of his focus being disrupted by not having packed his lucky boots. Both his team and his county may have missed out on competing for a much coveted Ulster title. It isn't hard to imagine the dejected fans streaming out of the ground at the end of the game, still cursing their captain’s luck at missing the kick, while completely unaware at the vital moment that their captain felt ill-at-ease, and as a result misplaced the kick.

Reflecting on the impact of disrupted focus. Credit: ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Consequently, he’d feel distraught and his unease would continue, knowing in advance the substantial loss of revenue to his county team due to lost gate receipts, sales of shirts, hats, match programmes and scarf sales which would inevitably ensue. So rather than perceive a superstitious psychology as non-malevolent, coaches should at least be aware of its potential impact and far-reaching consequences, most of which is determinable through sharing rapport. (Please comment)

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Comments (2)


I'm surprised there have been no responses to this David given the superstitions and rituals that many athletes engage in. I wonder if you can say any more about the thoughts/ideas and feelings that this person experienced and which (presumably) he described as "70% of his focus being disrupted" - I'd like to hear more about the exact nature of this disruption.

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This is a fascinating top to me. As a former player, I was incredibly superstitious. As a coach, I try to not be as superstitious, but it is inevitable at this point. I feel this really dives deep into sports psychology, a subject I have little experience in, however, wish to learn far more about. The reason I am less involved in superstition as a coach is simply because I feel my athletes are both mentally and physically prepared each week. I pay little mind to what color uniform we wear or what I eat for breakfast on game day as I know it holds little value. Unfortunately, I do catch myself during games wondering if making my games notes in a red sharpie would bring more luck than a blue sharpie and honestly I have never noticed that it could impair my performance and thoughts at pivotal parts in a game. Just an overall fascinating aspects of sports psychology.

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Thanks for you constructive comments Kendall. I value all responses and really appreciate that you took time to reply


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