Serena Williams always ties her shoelaces a certain way but more than anything believes in her socks
Serena Williams always ties her shoelaces a certain way but more than anything believes in her socks

She might be a winner of 22 Grand Slam titles, 14 Grand Slam double titles and the conqueror of 71 Women’s Tennis Association titles, but the secret to Serena Williams’ records could be her smelly socks. Legend has it that Serena always wears the same pair of socks throughout a tournament because she believes they will bring her good luck. Spare a thought for the poor soul who is supposed to do her laundry!

You get to see all kinds of superstitions in sports with some players keeping lucky charms close to them during performances. Some also have an irrational routine which might not be related to sports to begin with. From rings, earrings, pendants, wrist bands, headbands, a certain pair of gloves or shoes, to a particular team jersey number and playing gear brand, superstitions in sports exists in all baffling possibilities that one can imagine.

Swedish tennis icon Bjorn Borg used to have a lucky beard for Wimbledon. He’d grow a beard at the start of an event and shave it off once he had won the tournament.


Sportspersons ascribe their success to all sorts of quirky habits


If that wasn’t strange, tennis great Rafael Nadal always makes it a point to place his water bottle and energy drinks slightly to the left in front of his chair. He also drinks from his bottles in the same order. And that is not enough superstition for him because Nadal also takes care not to step over any lines on the court with his right foot first.

Victory reinforces the idea that every time they repeat their superstitious act, they are likely to perform over and above their peers. And if they actually do, they tend to adhere to and cling on to that same act.

Tiger Woods always played his final round in a red shirt
Tiger Woods always played his final round in a red shirt

But defeat can sometimes also serve the same purpose for those who believe in superstition. A bad patch of form can be equated to the absence of a certain superstitious routine. Return to the superstition and it will be all well again.

Zaheer Abbas, the Asian Bradman, is one of Pakistan’s finest batsmen to have ever graced the field. Abbas used to perform istikhara to pray for divine fortune-telling before going out to bat. Legend has it that the opposition would have to wait a few minutes when it was Abbas’ turn to bat since he’d still be praying.

Waugh carried his tattered red handkerchief right till the end
Waugh carried his tattered red handkerchief right till the end

Legendary Australian cricket captain Steve Waugh used to have a red handkerchief which his grandfather gave him that he would not part with. With a bowler ready to run up to the stumps to bowl, Waugh would often retrieve his handkerchief from his pocket, wipe his sweat off, and carelessly tuck it back in his pocket. Frustrating for the bowler, indeed, but was it just Waugh’s mind games at play or something more? It makes one wonder if a seemingly odd act of a competitor is really an uncontrolled superstition or another tactic being employed to throw the opposition off their original game plan.

Tiger Woods, the most successful professional golfer ever, also relied a lot on his lucky red shirt. There he would be during the final round of all the tournaments he played sporting a red shirt. Actually, Tiger said that it was because of his mother. He said that she thought that red was her son’s ‘power colour’. “You know, you should always listen to your mom,” he would say.

Real Madrid striker Christiano Ronaldo, for example, always redoes his hair at half time, so he doesn’t play both halves with the same hairstyle. He also makes sure to disembark first from a plane and last from a bus while travelling for a game.

Basketball legend Michael Jordan used to wear his college shorts underneath his team shorts as a luckey totem. In fact, he had to begin wearing longer and baggier shorts to cover up his superstition which then became a fashion trend.

Rafael Nadal and his perfectly-placed bottles with their labels facing the same way
Rafael Nadal and his perfectly-placed bottles with their labels facing the same way

Just before they go out to face the music, some players listen to some actual music. Some think that soothing music will calm their nerves, helping them to focus. Others listen to loud music to turn on their aggressive mode. Players might mutter a specific prayer or spend a minute or two in solitude. Some take a bath, perform yoga, frequently kiss their bat/ball, put a mark on the pitch using a bail, touch all corners of the goalposts or grip the goal net and even eat a chocolate or drink a certain beverage. Some may touch each and every part of their body, maybe to ensure that each organ is still there and in working order. They may apply a certain eye makeup or do a certain set of stretches, too.

Hey, if it works, why knock it, eh?

The writer tweets @Ali_Shahid82

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, November 20th, 2016