There are three things certain in life: death, taxes and Ethan Szypula putting on the left side of his hockey gear before his right.
Like many athletes, Szypula, a third-year Social Science student and Mustangs men's hockey forward, has superstitions that he abides by religiously.
Routines have become a part of the culture of sports.
For Szypula, his laundry list of superstitions include having an exact pre-game schedule, retaping his stick before every game and practising taking one-timers from former teammate, Kenny Huether, in pre-game warmups.
Szypula isn’t the only one that has a strict routine when playing sports, and occasionally these superstitions can be conflicting.
To follow his superstition of being the last player off the ice in warmups, on multiple occasions he had to engage in a rock-paper-scissors battle to see whether he or his opponent would have to leave the ice first. This scenario isn’t a rarity either.
For many athletes, these superstitions come to fruition while growing up. Some athletes adopt a superstition when they see a hero of theirs do it, while for others, they originate when they get on a hot streak and identify a common thread in preparation for those games. Once an athlete starts to follow a superstition, it can stick around for a long time.
“You kind of get in that routine,” says Szypula. “In my past [my superstitions are] something I’ve always done.”
Unlike eating a healthy diet or getting the right amount of sleep, most superstitions have no direct physical implications on the athletes’ performance. In Szypula’s case, his slapshot should travel just as fast whether he was the last man off the ice or not. But the real damage to these athletes occurs above the neck, not below.
Sports like hockey and baseball have a huge mental component to the game — and not following superstitions can mess with a player's psyche.
Yogi Berra once said that “you can’t think and hit at the same time.” Berra was referring to thinking about what pitch was coming in, but the same applies to players fretting over superstitions while playing.
If you have to think about whether or not following superstitions will impact your play, it’s fair to say that you’ve already lost the mental battle.
“If the mental game is off, whatever it is … that sometimes can mess with people,” says Szypula.
The very real impact superstitions can have on a player turns silly games into crucial routines that must be safeguarded — both by the player and their teammates.
Szypula’s superstitions require teammate support. If you’re on the Mustangs men’s hockey team, you know not to touch Szypula’s stick after he tapes it since the blade cannot touch the ground once it’s been prepped. As such, superstitions become ingrained in team culture.
“Although it’s a very individual thing, when you’re part of a team sport your team needs to be aware of everyone’s superstitions so that everyone can prepare properly and be at their best,” explains Szypula.
For athletes who are creatures of habit, little routines that may seem silly to outsiders can help them find their groove to feel comfortable and confident in their abilities. Their mental state can contribute to positive impacts on the ice, field or court.
So, whatever you do, don’t touch Szypula’s hockey stick in pre-game.