When Bobby Thalman ’13, the starting goalkeeper for the men’s soccer team, puts on his equipment, he makes sure to start with his left side. Once in goal, he does a shuffle before kissing his hand and touching the right post, kissing his left hand and touching the left post and then kissing his right hand and touching the crossbar.
Thalman said that he can’t remember when these habits first started, but he doesn’t plan on breaking them anytime soon.
“The majority of sports, if not all sports, are extremely mental,” Thalman said. “If your head’s not in it, you’re not going to perform well. It’s definitely crucial to have something to get you in that mindset.”
Though outcomes of sports competitions are often unpredictable, the ways in which most athletes prepare for games are stubbornly consistent. Many athletes follow specific pregame routines that are meant to help them get mentally prepared for the game and to ease anxiety. Routines vary for each individual and can include anything from superstitious quirks such as not washing lucky socks to listening to a set music playlist.
Some members of the track team don’t wash their socks if they have a good race in hopes that their success will carry over to future competitions, said mid-distance runner Jenna Hessert ’14. These teammates will not wash their socks until they have a bad race, in which case they will throw away the socks and move on to a new pair.
Once athletes establish their pregame routines, they tend to stick to them. The routine helps get them in the proper mindset and disrupting them can create unwanted distractions.
“I guess once you start doing something like that it kind of sticks with you because you have the fear that if you don’t do it that something’s going to go wrong,” Thalman said. “Then you’re thinking about that during the game instead of things you should be thinking about, so it’s almost like once you start it you’re kind of stuck with it.”
Wide receiver Chris Smith ’13, a starting member of Yale’s football team, takes a hot shower before the start of every game to relax and focus on the competition ahead. Although he called the ritual “kind of weird,” he said it helps him loosen his muscles and get in the right mindset. Smith described one particular instance when he overslept and was unable to take his usual pregame shower.
“It was kind of messing with my head a little bit,” Smith said. “I still ended up having a good game, so it was all right, but before the game I was kind of pissed.”
Kenny Agostino ’14, a forward on the men’s hockey team, cited music as a big part of his pregame routine. He has a specific game day playlist, which includes a medley of pop and rap tracks. For the walk up to Ingalls Rink, he typically listens to “happy” songs such as Katy Perry’s “Firework” and Pink’s “Raise Your Glass.” About an hour before game time, however, his preferences shift toward artists such as Lil Wayne and Eminem. When the team plays on the road, Agostino maintains the same playlist during bus rides.
In addition to music, Agostino’s preparation includes skating around the rink for 15 minutes, napping for an hour and eating a slice of bagel spread with Nutella on one half and peanut butter on the other half. He said his routine is so well-established that it has become almost second nature to him.
“I think [a pre-game routine] sort of subconsciously lets your body know that you’re getting ready to play a game,” Agostino said. “If I’m scrambling around and unorganized doing different things before a game I wouldn’t feel as prepared.”
For some teams, the preparation begins the night before a competition.
Smith said members of the football team traditionally eat a team meal at Yorkside on Friday nights before games. Each player usually has a specific dish that he will order, which for Smith is spaghetti and meatballs.
Though some athletes have been attached to their habits for a while, Adele Jackson-Gibson ’13, a goalkeeper for the women’s soccer team, said she did not develop a pregame routine until this year. But she added that superstition was not what motivated her to adopt such a routine.
“Even though you don’t really believe in superstition, your body has to be in kind of the same state every time, [so] you perform the same way,” Jackson-Gibson said. “[It’s] not because I believe in luck or anything. [It’s] just understanding more the mechanics of having a good game.”
To get herself in the proper state of mind, Jackson-Gibson said she always drinks Kombucha, a brand of fermented tea, and listens to the same music playlist prior to every game. She also spends at least 20 minutes visualizing different scenarios that might occur during the match so that if she does encounter them in a game, they won’t be as nerve-wracking.
Hessert, who runs the 400-meter race, said she also visualizes herself competing in her event before the actual race. About 15 minutes before the start of her event, she dedicates about one minute to picturing the entire race from start to finish.
As part of her routine, Hessert said she also eats oatmeal the night before a meet because she knows it won’t upset her stomach the next day.
“Some athletes are superstitious but most are just set in their ways,” Hessert said. “They know what works and what doesn’t.”
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