Running Superstitions & Good Luck Charms: Do They Really Work?

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To some runners, running superstitions, good luck charms and rituals can seem silly or juvenile and to others they are almost a pre-race way of life.  For some, the extra positive energy they might feel is very much a part of a well-thought-out race or training plan. No matter the way you personally lean, you can look around at any level in any sport, not just running, and see a variety of tokens, treasures, odd actions and stinky clothing items that give those individuals a feeling of ease.

Skeptics would speculate that if good luck charms and superstitions work then why isn’t everyone using them? Regardless of your feelings, there are some interesting fact behind the uses and needs for superstitions and good luck charms.

What Exactly is a Superstition?

Superstition related to the sports world is a repetitious act that an athlete performs before a certain event.  This can be the same routine of physical moves (like a warm up), wearing a certain item(s), eating of foods or placement of items.  The expectation would be an ideal performance or attainment of a set goal. Most interestingly, it is something that is developed without intent and seemingly after the fact.

Most athletes incorporate a particular superstition after a performance. Human nature starts inherently drawing cause and effect relationships.  Whether they count it as superstitious or because they know how their body reacts to something, almost every runner you know eats the same pre-race meals or has the same race week rituals.

According to psychological scientists at the University of Cologne, they found that when an athlete believes that certain rituals or items will bring them good luck, their belief in the ritual or item as well as their inflated confidence will produce positive results.

It Might Actually Help You Perform Better

No one is knocking the 2018 USA Olympic Team for having superstitions, nor are they laughing when Major League Baseball players spit sunflower seeds out a certain side of their mouth. But what about us non-professional endorphin seekers? It appears as though some physiologists and anthropologists have our back if we choose to get a little superstitious.

Superstitions play a role in mostly unpredictable areas of life, where we have only some control. For example, think about a marathon. You train, you taper, you eat well but you can’t entirely control your transportation plans, if you get sick or, as we all know too well, the weather. These situations breed the need for an extra boost of support and self-reliance. Rarely do the superstitious carry their good luck charm or perform their rituals for the day-to-day speed work or for their Thursday taper.  It’s saved for the race due to the significance of the outcome.

Trick Your Imagination into Making Your Body Work

For years, in high school cross country, a large part of race prep was something called “Mindful Racing” where members would lay in an area like a gym, track, field together and visualize the race. Often the coach was calling out the framework and asking runners to place themselves in the situation in real time. To the American Psychology Association this is called self-efficacy. This is a runner’s perception in their ability to perform to their desired goals.

Self-efficacy makes a runner feel control in an otherwise out of control situation. Sounds like an enlightened runner but not a faster or stronger one.  However, as mentioned before, there is a real life connection between the mental state of an athlete and successful goals.  So again, it’s less about the act or the object but about the positive mental change or belief it has on performance.

Harnessing Your Emotions

One characteristic that successful athletes have in common is the ability to stay calm under intense pressure and scrutiny in what can sometime seem like impossible odds. That is not something that can necessarily be taught, even in the most intense training camps. But exposure to these conditions can help athletes come up with a way to manage and channel emotions. Athletes that are able to overcome setbacks and failures as well as those that continue to strive to achieve world records or personal records, time and again, are able to successfully channel their emotions.

One of the most common ways is through good luck charms. Aside from increased performance towards their goals, studies have shown that it can lead to individuals seeking to attain loftier goals. Some runners and athletes alike will attach themselves to superstitions that quell over-active anxiety and nervousness with not-such-hocus-pocus when it relates to improving tried and true results. To some a good luck charm might seem strange or goofy, but to others, the intense emotions a good luck charm provides can make it an easy and safe tool for athletes of all abilities.

Next time you see your friend wearing the same shirt she wears to every race or your devout Catholic friend pins a St. Sebastian, the Patron Saint of Athletes, medal to their bib, consider finding your own superstition.  A good luck charm or ritual might even help you achieve your next running goal.

Sources

  1. Joe DeLissio, Why Superstitions Help Athletes Perform Better, Web, Jun 11, 2015
  2. Liam Blackwell, The power of superstitions and rituals in sport, Web,
  3. Silly Sports Rituals? Think Again, Web,
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