Josh’s Fresh Take: July Edition

Superstitious Habits? Do They Really Work?

Coach and Communications Lead, Josh Martin, weighs in on topics in the world of tennis and shares his two cents.

It’s funny how superstitions formulate for an individual. A form of eccentric routine that helps an athlete perform or rather gives them the confidence to perform at their best. Rafael Nadal is a walking example of superstitious habits. His famous tucking his hair behind his ears right before a big serve or that he needs two water bottles, one warm and one cold, during a match. In addition he also jumps non-stop during every pre-game coin toss and, my personal favourite, how he will not stand up from his chair until his opponent stands.

This past week, I had the chance to talk with fellow UBC Tennis Centre Coach, Dana Radivojevic, about some of her superstitious habits on and off the court. Some of which, like Nada, help Dana focus against her opponent and calm her nerves.

“What I used to do during my matches, specifically when it was time to pick up a ball for serving, was I would pick it up with my left foot and my racket. Once I did that, I would bounce the ball all the way back to the baseline about 5 to 10 times depending on how nervous I was. Once at the baseline, I would bounce the ball three times with my left hand and then I would serve. This was just a way that would help me focus and relax.”

This is the most interesting part of superstitious habits. They become part of a routine where individuals carry them out to focus and relax, just like Dana said. But are there other reasons as to why people carry out these habits? Can it be a form of OCD? Another habit of Nadal’s is the fact that he needs his water bottles diagonally placed facing the court with the labels pointed towards his side of the court. Is that really going to help his performance against the likes of Roger Federer? The angle of his water bottle label? In short, most likely. If this is part of Nadal’s routine and the labels were not facing the appropriate direction, it could serve as a distraction. Nadal’s focus would be taken away from the game until this was corrected.

It is fascinating really that there is so much going on inside an athlete’s head that one small superstitious habit not carried out could throw them off completely. In Dana’s case, she makes sure not to eat a lot of sugar when preparing for a match because of a previous experience.

“One time I had Nutella before a match and it completely threw me off. I played terribly. From that one experience, I created a routine to eat healthier instead, like eating eggs, or whole foods and nothing processed.

Did the Nutella that Dana had before that match really effect her performance that greatly? Perhaps, or perhaps not. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that Dana gets reassurance from cutting out sugar before a big match. Reassurance that a poor performance is unlikely to repeat. And that, my friends, gives confidence which is a huge aspect of any sport, especially in tennis.

Josh’s Fresh Take, signing off.