The Voodo That You Do

Pregame Rituals And Routines Can Play A Vital Role In An Athlete’s Preparation And Performance

David Booth goes through his pregame routine, which includes dryland training, to prepare for an NHL game during the 2013-14 season.David Booth goes through his pregame routine, which includes dryland training, to prepare for an NHL game during the 2013-14 season.

When he arrives at the Consol Energy Center before every home game, Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby always takes the same route on his walk to the Penguins’ locker room. 

During his 21-year NHL career, Wayne Gretzky got dressed in the exact same order — starting with his left shin guard and finishing by tucking his jersey into the right side of his breezers. 

Hall of Fame goaltender Glenn Hall went into a bathroom stall just before game time to vomit because he believed it made him play better.

Pregame rituals can be an essential part of many players’ preparations at every level of the game and these routines aren’t done by accident. They help aid in performance because they help players relax and remain focused on the task ahead of them.

“They are behaviors that help the brain anticipate what is coming next. Just like a bedtime routine for young kids helps shut down the brain,” says Dr. Larry Lauer, a former sports psychology consultant to the National Team Development Program and current mental skills specialist with the U.S. Tennis Association. “If you do things the same way, there is some benefit because it makes you feel ready. If you think it helps you, it probably does.”

Miami junior forward Austin Czarnik started doing his pregame routine when he moved to Ann Arbor, Mich., to join the NTDP in 2008. He gets to the rink 3.5 hours before game time, changes into workout gear and tapes his stick. He always sits in the same spot, is the last guy to the team warmup and counts the stars and stripes on the American flag during the national anthem.

“It’s a little much, I know,” Czarnik laughs. “But I was away from home for the first time and doing it helped me relax and stay calm. It just makes me feel more confident that I can play my best.”

According to Alan Goldberg, that’s exactly what a good pregame ritual should do.

“It’s going to calm you down because it is familiar,” says the Massachusetts-based sports psychologist. “You could be playing in the biggest game of your life, on a rink that you’ve only dreamed about playing on, in front of the biggest crowd of your life. And the one thing that will always be the same will be your ritual.”

Both Lauer and Goldberg stress that a pregame ritual should only include things that you can control. Doing the ritual distracts you from having negative thoughts or doubts that could make you nervous and disrupt your performance.

“Rituals help control what we focus on,” Goldberg says. “And focus is the central skill in mental toughness. It keeps you calm, relaxed and feeling good about yourself. Staying calm and loose is the secret to playing well.”

Muskegon Lumberjacks defenseman Christian Wolanin follows that advice to a ‘T.’

Following a pregame routine can help keep a player calm, relaxed and focused on performing at his or her best on the ice.Following a pregame routine can help keep a player calm, relaxed and focused on performing at his or her best on the ice.In his locker room stall, Wolanin likes to have everything in its place. On game day, he tapes his sticks the exact same way and sits them in the same spot at the side of his locker. He hangs his jersey up, lays out his socks and puts his gloves together with his grandfather’s initials facing out.

“I just like to be prepared, whether it’s a game or practice,” says Wolanin, whose father Craig played 14 seasons in the NHL. “I like to have everything ready, so I don’t have to scramble around. Then, I can focus on trying to be the best player on the ice.”

Hockey players aren’t the only athletes that employ rituals and routines to perform at their best.

 “You see it with good free throw shooters in basketball. You’ll see it with good golfers with their preshot ritual. You see it with pitchers and hitters in baseball, and tennis players before they serve,” Goldberg says. “You name the sport, it happens whenever there is a break in the action.” 

While pregame rituals have an element of superstition, players need to remember that it’s not the superstition that helps them play well.  

“Superstition is just a myth,” Goldberg says. “It’s not superstition that gets you calm. It’s not that you wore your lucky socks. It’s because what you are doing in a good pregame ritual controls what you focus on, controls what you think about and keeps you relaxed.”

Another thing to consider when developing a pregame ritual is to not make it too rigid because sometimes things happen that are out of your control, like the bus getting to the rink late or your warmup not going right.

Michigan State junior forward Mike Ferrantino admits his pregame routine includes a bit of superstition. The Spartans captain eats the same meal, chicken Parmesan, before every home game and then takes a nap. When he wakes up he has a cup of coffee and leaves for the rink at exactly 4:25 p.m.

What happens if he oversleeps or his roommate drank all of his coffee?

“I try not to get too worked up about things,” he admits. “But I try to make sure everything is set the night before. I like keeping everything the same because familiarity is big.”

What about on road trips, when he has to eat something different for his pregame meal?

“We usually have chicken and pasta, so it’s pretty close,” Ferrantino says with a laugh. N



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