“Superstitionism – The Psychology of Sport” by David White
“Superstitionism – The Psychology of Sport” by David White
Superstition disrupts athletes’ psychology and exists at the heart of their core beliefs. What caused football pundit Pat Nevin to balk at one of the most surreal experiences he had ever witnessed in the not-so-beautiful game? What left football manager Harry Redknapp sceptical of a pre-match prayer meeting before facing the might of Manchester United F.C? What caused the media to coin the phrase ‘Freaky Fridays’ to describe how elite golfer Rory McIlroy’s supreme performances on Thursdays regularly deteriorated the following day?
Is luck merely a figment of imagination despite being integral to how many athletes think? How does the fear of ‘Juju’ magic reportedly experienced by Togo International footballer Emmanuel Adebayor differ from Irish Gaelic football’s ‘Juju’ hex infamously known as the Mayo Curse? Is it purely a matter of demographics, is there such a thing as the Commentator’s Curse, and is God a superstition?
How you think can determine whether you are meteoric or mediocre, but this is not quite sport as you might imagine. Instead something far deeper is shaping your unique sporting genius, and that something is core superstitious beliefs. So hold onto your hat and open your mind to an engaging and enlightening exploration of how athletes mentally prepare before a whistle is blown or starting pistol fired.
Book excerpt of “Superstitionism – The Psychology of Sport” by David White
Lucky Metaphors (excerpt of chapter 7 of “Superstionism – The Psychology of Sport”)
Yeah I think there were little strokes of luck, and the bounce of the ball you need sometimes to get to where you are, and luckily that went in my favour.
Try harnessing the buzz:
“Please wake-up,” said the nurse.
“What is it, what’s the matter?” asked the startled patient.
“Nothing’s the matter,” replied the nurse, “I just forgot to give you your sleeping pills.”
Isn’t human nature wonderful, if not somewhat peculiar, and yet likewise compelling at the same time? As are superstitious beliefs which startle our senses, with dogmas, cultural ideologies and irrational truths. Indeed, all of life is a metaphor for something. First however, we must learn how to embrace life, if we are to discover what each metaphor implies. The most wonderful description of the term metaphor is that of a ‘Colouring in’ of language.
A typical example, of which is the statement ‘I’m feeling blue,’ as it’s simply impossible to ‘Feel’ the colour blue. Instead, it’s merely a more descriptive attempt (metaphor) to highlight an emotion, which rarely gets to extend beyond the blandness of simply stating ‘I feel sad.’ Metaphors are intended to exaggerate meaning: as a means to convey deep impactful language, through a creative process of exaggerated truths.
Each of which are enhanced by poetic licence, whereby even such generic-terms as ‘I feel sad,’ can expand as a metaphor to become ‘I feel I am drowning in a sea of grief,’ despite no one actually drowning and there being no sea. The human consciousness uses metaphors in an attempt to verbally convey the way our emotions are making us feel.
Metaphors add supplementary value and layers to our thinking, whilst layers also help us to exaggerate inner depths of emotions, which we might otherwise find difficult to convey. Often in the hope that the gravity of whichever emotions we may be experiencing at any given time, will transmit to our peers and in a cognitive sense, will best convey what we see, smell, taste, hear or feel.
Particularly within the confines of sport which is awash with superstitious metaphor; none of which stands up to rigorous scrutiny, or makes any sense. Yet metaphors are omnipresent within every aspect of daily life and also figure prominently within common aspects, such as the functionality and use of sports related idioms and cognitive beliefs.
So where is this leading? Or what have metaphors to do with sport? The rational mind need not look too far, to detect such audacious metaphorical reasoning within everyday metaphors of a sporting nature, as a means to evaluate the cognitive impact of how metaphors effect and impact upon sports. Who for instance has visually encountered a boxer, with a jaw or a chin actually ’Made out of glass?’
How did they manage to acquire a licence? Or how on earth are we meant to win ‘Hands down,’ if our sport requires that our hands remain active for up to 100% of the time? Or how does it feel to suffer the ongoing humiliation of having experienced a ’Heavy’ defeat? How many pounds or kilos does a heavy defeat actually weigh? Or if our heads are truly ’Melted,’ who then lit the flame, does this constitute murder, and how best to dispose of the excess wax?
Is it possible to obtain a ‘Ballpark figure’ outside the vicinity of a ball or a park? Or if the Gloves are off’ does it lead to automatic disqualification, since boxing matches can only legally be sanctioned, with an agreed prerequisite of wearing gloves. Likewise, why is the metaphor the gloves are off just as equally prominent within the mainstream languages of non-fisticuffs sports, such as athletics or rowing, snooker, swimming, or even darts?
Or what kind of affliction are we undergoing, once a teammate or a colleague starts to ’Grow on us?’ Is it physically possible to ’Wear a smile,’ and what is the designated temperature, which any athlete, player manager or coach must reach, before their actual ’Blood begins to boil?’ In retrospect, there is little doubt that sports protagonists are engulfed within countless metaphors, and yet the oddest thing about metaphors, sports or otherwise.
Is that they actually appear to make perfect sense, despite making no bloody sense at all. Instead, human consciousness adjusts and adapts to accommodate metaphorical ways of thinking, so that we may assimilate discrepancies in partial truths, into metaphorical versions of what we call the world. In other words, metaphors are a unique form of language, which although not true, somehow makes sense to us.
Similar perhaps to the psychological adjustments, as is often apparent once two drunks engage in conversation. Yet despite the slurred speech and incoherence, both seem uncannily able to understand what the other one says. The human brain will condition itself to adapt to many forms of incoherent-coherence.
The danger however, is once the brain chooses to internalise a common metaphor, incoherence automatically starts to ’Grow legs’ (Oops, another metaphor). Yet the key to alleviating sports ambiguities such as sporting metaphors, superstitions and an inbred aversion to luck, is simply to acknowledge that life isn’t locked and if life isn’t locked, then we have no need for a key.
Instead all that’s required is to recognise that the human memory conspires to withhold information which it deems as unpalatable to sporting well-being, by deselecting and syphoning-off recollections, which it associates with experiencing bad luck. Part of memory’s practical functionality is being able to harness the power of suggestion. Yet how can we tell if our memory is acting impartially?
Who gets to decide whether memory can be deemed an honest broker when left unattended to self-regulate the information we are being encouraged to remember and likewise, the bits it prefers we conveniently forget? The answer to this question is of great significance, as the quality of every sports performance is influenced by the way in which memory chooses to interpret all of our prior experiences with luck.