Blog Mental


This week I grabbed my boxer shorts and socks and threw them into my backpack to commute to work on my bike. Once I showered and pulled my socks on, I realised they were odd! Not strange, just different colours. I have the socks that the majority of the male UK population have, from M&S, socks that have different coloured toes and heals so you can always match one sock back to its partner. For many people, this may not be a big deal, but I have not worn odd socks since I can remember.

Odd Socks
The offending articles!

I think it is just something I have come to do. Why would I wear odd socks? It looks as if I can’t dress myself and shouts – Here is a person who does not care about themselves. But there is a little more to it!

To tell you the truth, initially when I saw the odd socks, I thought Oh no!

There were a couple of seconds when I thought What am I going to do? Should I just wear my cycling socks?

Then I thought, What is really going to happen if I wear odd socks for one day? Maybe it is a sign that something different or unexpected is going to happen.

I embraced it and got on with my day. Nothing bad happened and I ended up wearing the odd sister pair the following day.

You could call this superstition or possibly Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). For full disclosure, I did have OCD when I was younger. I do not have it now; I just have a strong preference for tidiness, certain numbers and not opening umbrellas in doors.

This got me thinking about superstitions. Here is a sample of superstitious things I used to do when I was younger surrounding sport –

  • Same underpants to play every game of rugby (they were washed each week).
  • Never wear the outside centre (number 13) shirt when playing rugby.
  • Left sock, right sock, left shin pad, right shin pad, 2nd left sock, 2nd right sock, left boot, right boot for football, rugby or basketball.
  • Always put my shirt/vest on last thing before I go out for any sport.
  • Same stretching routine for any sport. Always in 4s.
  • Lucky hat, goggles and trunks when swimming an important race.
  • Lucky basketball socks. (My god, those things were tatty!)
  • Same warmup for swimming. Number of lengths. Number of specific strokes.
  • Always played number 4 or 44 at basketball/football.
  • Walk out of a tunnel last (or second to back if the was another superstitious person).

There was plenty more, but you get the idea.

So why did I do this? I used to get very nervous before competitive matches or races and this helped me stay calm and focused. It always had a positive effect on my power of belief. If I do these certain things in this order, I am going to win this match/race.

With the Olympics on at the moment and the fine margin for error between gold, silver and bronze there for all to see, a bit of positive thinking can be a tremendous help. It is like a positive placebo effect.

There are a number of examples of great sportspeople and their superstitions –

  • Michael Jordan – The greatest basketball player of all time wore his University of North Carolina practice shorts under his pro uniform in every game.
  • Bjorn Borg – The 5 time Wimbledon champion would always prepare for Wimbledon by growing a beard and wearing the same Fila shirt.

    This is Anfield
    Touch the sign for luck!
  • Liverpool FC – All Liverpool Football players touch the “This is Anfield” sign in the stadium tunnel as they walk out to the pitch. Their current manager Jurgan Klopp has since banned the superstition saying current players will only be worthy of touching it when they deliver silverware to the club.
  • Mike Catt – The World Cup winning rugby player always had to touch his ear when the camera panned down the line up for the national anthems.
  • Tiger Woods – The 14 time golf Major winner always wears a red shirt on Sundays (the final round).
  • Ronaldo – The three time winner of best footballer in the world always steps onto the pitch with his right foot first. He also changes his hairstyle at half time.
  • Bobby Moore – The 1966 World Cup winning captain insisted on being the last player in the changing rooms to put his shorts on before a game, and would wait until everyone else was dressed before pulling his own shorts on.
  • Gary Lineker – Former striker and World Cup golden boot winner didn’t shoot at the goal during warm ups because he didn’t want to waste a goal.
  • Laura Trott – Triple Olympic goal medal winner and seven time world champion steps on a wet towel before races after once winning a junior race while wearing a wet sock.
  • Paula Radcliffe – Women’s marathon world record holder used the same safety pins to attach her number in every race.

Superstitions are fascinating! The thinking is that we are exerting control over what is happening. That the divine forces that provide order to the universe are listening or watching and will ensure that we win or good things will occur and bad things won’t.

When you think of this objectively, it is obviously a load of rubbish. We can go through our superstitions and rituals and we might not win and bad things may still happen. There are a million and one things that can take place to affect the game or race more than whether I put my left sock on first. How about the other team or competitors being better, training harder, wanting it more?

However, we prepare by training, eating well, getting the required rest and superstitions provide you with the sense that you have done one more thing in an effort to get to the outcome you are seeking. Sometimes it is just the cherry on the top you need. I have got my fast vest on and today’s race is going to go well.

Flash Top
The Flash? Can i help me?

Don’t believe me! A study by the department of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire showed wearing a Superman t-shirt or a white (lab/doctor) coat can improve exam performance. Under Armor even do a range of compression tops of various super heroes selling this exact thing!

Jonny Wilkinson
Jonny in his famous pose!

Another way to look at it is that it is a routine. A routine that triggers a feeling of readiness. World Cup winning rugby player Jonny Wilkinson had an elaborate pre kicking routine. It looked like he was very superstitious. What he was really doing was focusing, visualising and controlling his breathing. The number of steps he took was just the number of steps required to successfully kick a goal, and not a number due to superstition.

Am I still superstitious? Much less so. The stakes are not so high anymore. I rarely take part in competitive, competitive sport. The left sock/shoe thing still lives with me. It is just habit now. I have lucky running tops and shorts. I still avoid the number 13 as well as black cats, ladders and I am very careful with mirrors. What is the point of risking it?

What are your superstitions? How do you think they help you? Leave a comment below.

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