Many players raise the level of their confidence through superstitions and repeated gestures. What do sports psychologists think?

From always using the same boots and stepping onto the field with the right foot to not shaving until the winning streak is over would only be touching the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the many quirks footballers may have for before, during or after a match. We all know that Laurent Blanc kissed the head of Fabien Barthez before the games of the French team during the 1998 World Cup. Yet, not only are such rituals a thing of football stardom. Superstitions and rituals are also present in the more modest reaches of the footballing world. ¿Why?

“These behaviors are, in one way or another, limiting”, explains Efrén Díaz, sports psychologist at Real Sporting de Gijón and currently focus-area and personal development coordinator. “An athlete that depends on superstitions and rituals may well be more concentrated on remembering them than the actual game at hand”.

“An athlete that depends on superstitions may be more concentrated on remembering them than the actual game at hand”

The first thing to remember is that under no circumstance is a superstition the same as a quirk or a ritual. A superstition is something that is believed to bring good luck, like a quick prayer or crossing oneself before entering the game. A quirk or a tick is something that is done repeatedly and could happen without anyone noticing, be it the compulsive act of touching ones own hair or a specific a ball control technique. Lastly, a ritual is a series of gestures or actions that are always done in the same way, at the same moment in time or under the same conditions before, during or at the end of the match. “Players’ beliefs -whatever they may be- are the basis of self-confidence. Although from my point of view, avoiding a quirk or ritual is more detrimental to performance than the positive effect carrying it out may have”, comments Díaz.

As published in ‘La Gazzetta dello Sport’, many are the professional footballers that have had no problem with confessing their own quirky habits. For example, the keeper for the Spanish national team, Pepe Reina, confessed to always having to fill the tank in his car and parking it in the same spot before a match, whilst Cristiano Ronaldo, one of football’s biggest stars, acknowledges that he always gets dressed starting with the right and never changes his place on the bus..

“Rituals do improve self-confidence as every action involved is preparing the athlete physically and mentally for the next”

Though, this doesn’t only happen in the most important professional leagues. It’s a thing of junior and infant leagues, too. Pelayo Pérez, player for Real Sporting de Gijón’s junior B and occasionally called to action by the under-17s Spanish national team will cross himself and skip onto the pitch with his right foot. And it doesn’t end there, during the captain’s coin toss he looks straight ahead and will touch his laces moments before the whistle goes. A little ritual that in fact hasn’t been around for his entire footballing career but was something he started doing last season during his time on the red and white club’s under-16s.

Former Marcet goalkeeper Edu Frías highlighted the importance of of the physiological aspect. “Before I used to disconnect a little, my mind would wonder off during games and during training sessions. I had to have sessions with the sports phycologist at RCD Espanyol, who advised me on some special routines to keep me focused. And it worked”. Díaz explains why: “Rituals do directly improve self-confidence as every action involved is preparing the athlete physically and mentally for the next, given that there is a set order”.

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