People and Community Sports

Why are we so superstitious about sports?

Tywan Martin, an associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Sport Sciences, shared his expertise on the power of the law of attraction, and how athletes can attract success simply by focusing on winning.
A close shot at the basket during open practice at NRG Stadium on Friday afternoon. Photo: Mike Montero/University of Miami

A close shot at the basket during open practice at NRG Stadium on Friday afternoon. Photo: Mike Montero/University of Miami

Before each Miami Hurricanes men’s basketball game, Marcel Van Hermet makes it a point to say a prayer for the team to stay healthy and win. Without that one seemingly small gesture, he believes it will negatively affect the outcome of the game.

“Since 2001, this is the biggest thing that’s happened in our men’s basketball program history,” said Hemert, a junior double majoring in geology and international studies at the University of Miami, referring to the fifth-seeded Miami Hurricanes heading to Houston this week to play in their first Final Four. “I started to cry when we made it to the semifinals. I felt like my prayer and chants really made a difference.”

We’ve all seen or heard of athletes—or their fans—performing either ritual movements, wearing a specific item, or chanting a phrase prior to a game to bring good luck. From NBA player LeBron James’ trademark tradition of throwing chalk in the air and clapping his hands before tipoff to University of Miami senior Rohin Vaidya wearing an orca whale one-piece suit to the men’s basketball games, the relationship between superstitions and winning outcomes in sport is a notion of truth.

Tywan Martin, associate professor in the School of Education and Human Development Department of Kinesiology and Sport Sciences, said he believes the outcome of a matchup can be influenced by the momentum a player or fan chooses to focus on pre-game.

“From my understanding, it’s the energy and when you put your attention and focus on something, it tends to come to life. I firmly believe that if we think negatively and our energy is that of negativity, you are likely going to get negative outcomes,” said Martin.  

A superstition or ritual in sports can be defined as a certain belief or practice that if done—or not done—by that sports performer or fan, it will lead to a negative or positive performance in the game. Martin compares this notion to the law of attraction—we get what we put out into the universe.

“I think that superstitions have much value given the longstanding history of sport and athletes that have used superstitions to prepare for a game,” said Martin. “Sport is so dynamic, it’s so awesome that literally if you could bottle it up, for instance the Final Four, the energy in the building is like no other experience. So if we are talking about the idea of energy and what people focus their attention on, I think fans play a critical role in the outcome of the game.”

On Saturday, the Miami Hurricanes will face off against the University of Connecticut Huskies in the Final Four. Martin said fans traveling to Houston to cheer on the ’Canes should also be packing their energy, play whatever song, and wear whatever lucky garments they have because it helps encourage players to perform better.

“Given how I understand the value of energy, I certainly believe that the focus, the intention, the passion, the frequency—it’s everything, and subconsciously creates a synergy in the arena,” said Martin.

Martin added that there will always be naysayers, but energy is very real and “where you direct your attention can have awesome or not-so-awesome outcomes that you desire.”

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