Knocking on wood
by Catherine Szabo
There’s Wayne Gretzky’s jersey tucked into one side of his hockey pants, and Boston Red Sox Wade Boggs’ pre-game meal of chicken. Entire hockey teams turn into Neanderthal men with the onset of playoff season and the quintessential playoff beard. Sport superstitions aren’t anything new to the playing field, and a kinesiology professor at the University of Calgary said it’s because of the uncertain outcome of sport.
“By following ritualistic behaviour, it gives the athletes some perception of control,” Dave Paskevich, a sport and exercise psychology professor at the U of C wrote in an email. “By having control, it can reduce feelings of anxiety, doubt and worry.” Kaitlyn Burke, defence for the Mount Royal Cougars women’s hockey team, was able to pull off a winning streak in the playoffs two years ago after a bad season, though the team lost in the final game. During the playoffs, she was wearing black nail polish.
“So last year, I did the black nail polish thing, but for the final game, I took it off and we won,” she said. “I think it’s more just a pre-game routine of what feels comfortable and what gets (players) men- tally prepared. Some people have (superstitions) and some don’t.”
Now, Burke usually wears black nail polish during the regular season, and religiously during the playoffs, though she’s careful to remove it for final games. Leanne Pfliger, one of Burke’s teammates and the goalie for the team, has gotten dressed for a game the same way since before she could remember. “I know winning has nothing to do with the way I get dressed because it is all mental and I believe that is helping me, so why stop?” she wrote in an email.
Both athletes said they’re not distracted during a game if they forget their pre-game ritual; Pfliger because she said she doesn’t forget, period, and Burke said she can focus in on the game without outside influences. “The key with great performers is even if their routine is disrupted, they can still per- form well, where others will be handicapped — not be able to perform optimally — due to not being able to carry out these behaviours,” Paskevich said.