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Rituals and Superstitions: How some of hockey's greatest players enhance their performance

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"I'm not much of a believer in luck. I believe things happen for a reason. Superstitions are okay for other guys, but I'm not into it." - Carey Price

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

We usually hear about them come playoff time, but many athletes engage in regular pre- and post-game rituals and superstitions year-round. The Montreal Canadiens are no exception, with a rich history of some pretty interesting routines.

Maurice 'Rocket' Richard changed his jersey number from 15 to 9 following two seasons in which he broke the same ankle. Two of the best goaltenders in Habs' history also followed some strict beliefs. Ken Dryden always needed to make one final save before leaving the ice. Patrick Roy used to have a little chat with his goal posts pre-game. Some members of the current roster engage in some rituals and superstitions of their own.

Dale Weise (a new addition to the world of social media) recently tweeted out a photo of his typical 'night before' a game meal. P.K. Subban has the same pre-game routine, including his famous anthem dance-alongs.

The ever-stoic Tomas Plekanec? He makes sure that he drives the same route to the arena every game day, has the same routine in the room before warm-ups, and puts his stick in the exact same spot before every game. And of course, as the playoffs begin, we see the majority of players begin to grow their beards, not to be shaved until they're no longer playing for the season.

Other superstitions can include wearing & using specific gear, listening to certain songs, or even taping your stick in a very precise way. As it turns out, some of the rituals and superstitions held by athletes may hold some scientific merit.

When looking deeper into how players tape their sticks, a few obvious things come to mind. Each player prefers a specific method, style, and brand of tape. Many guys choose to tape with black grip tape since the belief is that it helps 'hide' the puck from the goaltender.

Interestingly, different tapes have different surface textures, allowing for the puck and stick to interact in different ways. Greater friction between the puck and the tape on the blade of the stick means better control. In addition, the amount of tape (increasing mass) can help create more stability in the stick, as well as increase potential force when shooting.

Obviously, there are regulations within the league, but while some players simply 'prefer' certain taping methods over others, the reality is that certain methods really could increase performance.

What about the mental side of rituals and superstitions? "Elite athletes use these rituals to become centered so that they can focus on performance," says Dr. Bruce Ogilvie. "They have characteristic ways of getting back into the centre of themselves — mainly to eliminate distractions." Improving concentration and, in turn, eliminating distractions, has been proven to increase athletic performance.

Superstitions, on the other hand? Many argue that they are not productive but simply contribute to something called confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias occurs when individuals tend to acknowledge instances that coincide with their beliefs and previous positive or negative experiences, while disregarding instances that do not coincide with prior experiences. For example, some athletes who wear 'lucky' articles of clothing on game days do so because they believe that it helps them perform better.

If the athlete does not perform well, the athlete may decide that article is no longer 'lucky,' or will choose to ignore the poor performance. Essentially, an athlete confirms previous beliefs that the article of clothing is lucky, overall.

One of the most mentally-sound athletes playing the game today, not to mention an absolutely incredible talent, Price's statement above shows that he downplays the importance of superstitions for himself as an elite athlete. In the same interview, he did mention that he tends to participate in team superstitions when it's important to the team, but he is clearly an athlete who recognizes that other applicable performance-enhancing factors deserve his time and energy.

Pre- & post-game rituals and superstitions are fascinating. While some could certainly hold some connection to improved athletic performance, others simply encourage the athlete to believe that his luck will improve. Regardless of what the science says, rituals and superstitions are important to the athlete himself, and in the long run, that's really all that matters.

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Podnieks, A. (2010). Hockey Superstitions: From Playoff Beards to Crossed Sticks and Lucky Socks. Toronto, ON: McClelland & Stewart, Ltd.

Ziesberger, M. (2008) Price plays down comparisons. Retrieved from: http://slam.canoe.com /Slam/Columnists/Ziesberger/2008/04/17/5311466-sun.html

Poppy, John. (1994). The rite stuff. Men's Health, 9(6), 84.