With all the media and television coverage, and now of course the social media driven age that sport has embraced so willingly, we get to know pretty much everything about the lives, habits and opinions of our exposed sports stars. Spectators and followers can feel as close to their heroes and heroines as ever before.
Yet for all of this intense media, fan and advertising glare, there are certain superstitions that top athletes have that slip beyond our resepective radars; practices and behaviours that they feel compelled to follow again and again in order to feel completely psychologically assured before, during and after their matches. No matter how much talent, experience and confidence an athlete may have, they will not feel right without following certain routines. Sporting superstitions can be to us ambiguous, intriguing and downright bizarre; to many sportsmen and women, they’re absolutely necessary. So without further ado, here are some of the current sporting world’s most peculiar habits;-
Serena Williams has a reputation as one of the greatest and most feared female tennis players of all time with more than 30 Grand Slam titles in the singles and doubles, yet she believes much of her success is the result of closely followed set of routines. Bouncing the ball five times before her first serve and twice before her second is pretty normal, wearing just one pair of socks during a tournament run isn’t. Yes, from the first match to the last, she will wear the same pair of socks. She has actually credited the odd major loss to not following this wacky superstition properly. Making sure she uses the same shower before matches and the same bags for each encounter seem relatively normal in comparison.
Tiger Woods is relentless in his quest to recapture the form of the glory days in which he won 14 Majors. At that peak, this grandeur and dominance was for Woods not all down to his sublime game and unbreakable temperament. It was also owed to his lucky red shirt. This would be donned on the Sunday of every major – seeing him walking to the first tee in it, with yet another title in sight, must have been enough in itself to fill opponents with dread. Woods celebrating in his red Nike polo has been of the defining images of the modern game of golf. Allegedly started by a combination of his mother and his successful red-wearing college team, Woods wears red on the final day of a Major as it is the colour of power.
One of the most enduring and probably most pointless arguments in the world of sport revolves around which of the world’s two best football players, Ronaldo or Messi, is better than the other. You would think the success of the Argentinean magician would be the only insecurity for a man with over 400 career goals and every domestic trophy that there is to win, as well as a seemingly indestructible self-belief. Yet even without doubt one of the finest players to ever grace a football field has his own superstitions – for example, he will always insist on stepping onto the pitch with his right foot first. He also insists on touching the ball before heading out onto the pitch. He even has very specific demands for the Portugal side he captains. He must sit alone at the back of the team bus, must be the first one to get off the plane after a flight and the last one off the bus and no one else is allowed to start the match with a full sleeve shirt on except for him. Confused? Thought so.
Since truly announcing himself on the international stage during England’s home Ashes win in 2009, Stuart Broad has been at the vanguard of much of the team's success, one half of one of the best England bowling partnerships in recent memory alongside all-time leading wicket-taker Jimmy Anderson. Cricketers are renowned for being a superstitious lot but Broad’s particular obsession must surely be one of weirdest of the current crop. He has admitted to ensuring that he sprays himself with Paco Rabanne Million aftershave before each time he heads out to bowl, something he has continued to do ever since he started doing it before each Tests in that successful 2009 series. Yes, his desire to terrorise batsmen and take wickets with nearing 90mph deliveries is partly assisted and guided by his smell. Or so Broad would tell you.
Now technically the recently retired former Manchester United and England defender shouldn’t be on the list, but we’ll make an exception for this old fixation of his. His ex-colleague Robin Van Persie recently revealed that once before a game the former England international’s car broke down and the Dutchman dutifully picked him up and drove him to game. United won – and thus for every other future home game, Rio insisted that Van Persie drive them both to the match. He is also ensured that he never stepped on a white line when entering the field of play. Take your pick over which is the odder.
Great Britain has been the dominant force in track and road cycling for a number of years now, something highlighted again by Chris Froome just claiming his second Tour de France. Nonetheless they aren’t immune to the odd superstition for success either. Mark Cavendish, for example, refuses to shower on the morning of races. Laura Trott however tops the lot – she believes that she has to always step onto a wet towel before any major track races. The 23 year-old is the most successful rider, male or female, in the history of the European Track Championships, with seven titles. She is the reigning Olympic Champion for the Omnium and Team Pursuit events. Despite already having achieved so much, she still sticks to a practice that caught on after she won her first ever junior race whilst wearing a wet sock.
Talking about sporting superstitions would be pointless without looking at the master of the art. There really has been no greater superstitious sportsman than 14 Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal; you suspect he would self-combust on court if someone prevented him from fulfilling each of the habits and ticks he has on the court. He is an exception in that many of his superstitions are relatively well-known. The Spaniard is a fount of idiosyncrasies and quirks. He will always walk onto the court with a single racket in hand, will cross lines with his right foot only and avoid stepping on them and will sip his drinks in the same order, which he also meticulously places in the exact same place – one to the left-front of his chair and the other aiming diagonally at the court. He must jump at the net during the coin toss, run to the baseline for the warm-up and will always wait for players to cross first on changeovers. Not to mention all the touches of the face and hair before each serve and the need to wipe his face with a towel after every point. Nadal claims that all of these rituals help him to focus – after achieving so much success, can you really argue against him?
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