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Crazy superstitions for game day

Crazy superstitions for game day



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SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utes and the Cougars are gearing for Saturday's rivalry game. If those players are like most other athletes, they could be engaging in some pretty strange, superstitious behavior. Athletes are known for having some bizarre rituals to get an edge, ranging from physical violence to recreating flu-like symptoms.

Athletes are notorious for having superstitions. They hold tight to them like a warm blanket. Although, University of Utah Football Head Coach Kyle Whittingham says he doesn't really have any.

"I'll bet if you ask the players, I'll bet there are several that have things that they've made rituals," he says.

Fine, we'll ask a former player. Former BYU player Chad Lewis says plenty of football players on the college level and in the pros seem to like vomiting before a game. "Here we are in the locker room, getting ready to go out and play and you hear in the locker room just heaving. That was kind of crazy," he says.

Baseball great Wade Boggs was known to eat poultry on game day almost religiously. Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle John Henderson has someone slap him across the face before games. The Wall Street Journal reports NASCAR drivers won't allow peanuts in their shells to come near them while on the track.

But, where does this strange behavior come from?

"They're looking for anything, any sense of control that they can get," says sports psychologist Maria Newton.

Newton says athletes can't guarantee an outcome of a game, so they'll focus on the things they can control. This gives them a sense of security, which clears their head so they can do their job. These superstitions are, of course, magnified with success.

"Athletes think [in terms of] cause and effect. [They think], ‘It's these socks I wore. It's this way that I drove. It's where I parked. It's this pregame meal.'" Newton says.

Dr. Keith Henschen, sports psychology consultant for the Utah Jazz agrees. "It's kind of like, we're taking the responsibility from us and giving to whatever the superstition is."

Silly as some of these things may seem, in a way, superstitions do control the outcome of a game simply because the athletes think they do. Henschen says if a player doesn't follow the right pregame ritual, their confidence could suffer.

"We give them way too much power because we actually incorporate them into our belief system," he says.

So, players can get distracted because they're not wearing the right socks, or they weren't slapped in the face, or they didn't vomit. However, if professional players give superstitions so much credit for their success, why don't they stop believing in them when they lose?

"Because we're not exactly sure what we did and we must have done something wrong," says Henschen.

This superstitious behavior isn't just for athletes. Fans sometimes think they have control of the game. One University of Utah fan told us he won't allow anyone in his family wear the color blue this Saturday.

E-mail: pnelson@ksl.com

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Paul Nelson

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