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Making it Routine


Rituals and their role in the game


NBA players have some of the most fun and bizarre rituals in sports, ranging from the iconic chalk toss that has been on billboards all across the world to Jason Terry’s multiple socks and Kevin Garnett’s head-banging on the basket support. Today, pre-game rituals have gotten more elaborate and popular than ever, with the advent of social media. From complicated handshake routines to innovative mini-skits involving whole teams, they have become an essential part of the game, with many fans arriving early to arenas to witness them. But why do athletes perform these routines?


Confidence: Performing the same acts give athletes a sense of control. The basic appeal of sports is that nothing is ever really certain, providing an ever-present element of chance. By taking the same steps each time, players are able to build self-efficacy. It is not hard to imagine how you can gain confidence with each successful shot, in an elaborate routine like Ray Allen’s famed two-hour pre-game shooting warm-ups.


Superstition: Sometimes rituals are performed merely as superstitions, beyond any tangible or objective benefits. Besides his many socks, Terry also wears the shorts of opposing teams to bed the night before a game. Although these acts may seem inconsequential, it is hard to deny the power of the ‘placebo effect’: if we believe strongly that something will work, it usually works.


Practice: Not all rituals are trivial or fun. Kobe Bryant and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, for instance, are known for grueling workouts to prepare for games. These warm-ups help to activate and build their muscle memory, allowing them to achieve peak performance.


Fun: Of course, routines are done for the sake of fun as well. This is not mere frivolity, as they can help players to get loose and to truly enjoy the game. A relaxed player has a better chance at playing well than a player who is on edge and all tensed up for a game.