I will start this off by saying that prior to this year, I was not very knowledgeable about baseball to say the least. All I knew was what I learned from playing baseball on Wii Sports. The 2017 season at Samford has brought a much better understanding of the game, strategies, and the guidelines of the sport itself for me. After reading a few posts from some of the baseball boys in our class, I began learning a little bit more about some of the aspects, the bullpen in particular, including all the fascinating yet questionable ideas, beliefs, and stories it entails. Eager to know a little more, I did a little bit of research and came across a viral video for the second time.
If you can’t tell through the screaming and excitement of these baseball players, they prank called Texas A&M’s bullpen and told the coach to get pitcher A.J. Minter up and ready during a game against Stephen F. Austin. After ending the phone call, the TV screen showed the coaches beginning to change pitchers and the boys erupted in disbelief that they actually accomplished getting a player hot. The athletes behind this unbelievable phone call come from Eastern Oklahoma State College. Oddly enough, this isn’t the first time they’ve gone viral for a crazy baseball inspired video. They have one more that went viral a whole year ago.
This fanatical video is actually what sparked my interest for writing this post- why do we as athletes participate in crazy warm up routines and why are they routine? Is it for good luck? What happens if we do a part of it wrong or not at all? Why are athletes so superstitious?
Every athlete has superstitions, ranging from mild to severe. If you watch any sport, every player at least performs roughly a series of different motions, twitches, or repeated patterns. Batters typically draw a little “X” in the dirt or perform a number of swings before stepping to the plate. Volleyball players bounce, dribble, spin, and hit the ball numerous times before they serve it; same way with basketball players. Often, if a player messes up, it’s because they “didn’t dribble the ball exactly 6 times” or their “right foot wasn’t three fourths of the way past this specific line on the field”. These are very mild representations of superstitions and rituals that we as athletes find necessary to perform before we execute a usually simple athletic move. It can go as far as having to wear the exact same pair of socks or underwear every game or even doing a recurring pregame ritual such as the Eastern Michigan State baseball players.
We sometimes see these things simply as “good luck” but really, it goes much further than that. It can more so be viewed as an illusion of control over what we are doing. A New York Times Article found that “George Gmelch, a professor of anthropology at the University of San Francisco who has studied superstition in baseball for decades, says that superstition indeed tends to be more prevalent in areas where there’s a lot of uncertainty”. This is directly reflects athlete’s situations: we don’t know if we’ll win the game, or if we’ll make the serve, make the free throw, or whether we’ll hit the ball or get a strike. These rituals provide confidence and help cope with uncertainty that all humans- not only athletes- generally dislike. It manipulates our belief in what we’re capable of and how well we can perform it. There is a term for this, broadly dubbed as self- efficacy.
What is cool about athletes in particular, is that we typically understand that these rituals don’t actually work and they don’t really determine the outcome of the game. However, the rituals are so engrained in our heads that it honestly isn’t worth the risk of not performing them. There is no cost, seemingly only benefit from doing so. On that note, an experiment conducted in 2010 found that after a superstitious thought or behavior occurred, it actually did lead to subsequent performance improvement- self- efficacy. So when in doubt, luck it out.