The GUIDON: Jersey Numbers and Sports Rituals

Athletes are some of the most superstitious people on earth. Some tennis players bounce their balls a certain number of times, some have a lucky jersey/underwear, some have a lucky jersey number. Whatever the case, I’m sure you’ve got a few superstitions yourself…or at least a few pre-game/race rituals which you cannot do without because you feel it affects your performance.

Read on as athletes share what their superstitions are and how they have worked (or not worked) for them.

This was published in the January 2012 hardcopy issue of The GUIDON, in the Sports section and in February 2012 for the online version

Jersey Numbers and Sports Rituals

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Lucky Blue Charms. Ateneo athletes share some of their pre-game beliefs and superstitions that help them feel relaxed, secure and ready to take on the competition. Photo by Ean L. Dacay

Michael Jordan is known for wearing his University of North Carolina shorts under his Chicago Bulls uniform; he led his team to six NBA championships. Ron Artest—now legally named Metta World Peace—changes his jersey number each time he transfers to another team. Tennis legend Björn Borg grew a beard and wore the same Fila shirt to every Wimbledon match; he won five straight Wimbledon titles.

Some Ateneo basketball fans attribute a game’s outcome to Kirk Long’s ever-changing hairstyle and hair color. Of course, this is highly debatable. However, whether it’s the process of selecting jersey numbers or staying true to routines, there are clearly some rituals a number of athletes hold sacred.

Lucky numbers

Many athletes like to keep the jersey numbers they started their careers with—take Blue Eagle Bacon Austria, who inherited his #8 from his father, former PBA player Leo Austria. Power forward Nico Salva (#8), Blue Booter Joel Faustino (#18) and Lady Booter Inez Achacoso (#20) also continue to use numbers they have had since their first playing year.

Others view jersey numbers as their identities on the field, sometimes to the point of waiting for years before finally being able to use their preferred number—as was the case for Salva, who wore #14 for his first three years, and Frank Golla, who was unable to use #21 during his playing years as a Blue Eaglet. Perhaps, indeed, it is no coincidence that Salva had his best playing year this season, garnering the UAAP Finals MVP accolade.

Lady Booter Yvette Gaston (#8) says, “I liked how the number is balanced and continuously flows—it says a lot about how I’d like to see myself as an athlete.”

Rookie Mikko Mabanag, who switched from #4 to #19 after scoring two goals for Team Pilipinas (U-13), shares, “It isn’t just a lucky number; it’s something I would like to carry throughout my career.”

Nevertheless, there are those who, like Emman Monfort (#6), don’t ascribe much value to jersey number selection: “I change numbers all the time,” he says. “It wasn’t important or meaningful.”

True or false?

Do rituals really pave the way to glory, or are they mere superstition? For many athletes, their sport is a way of life—a pseudo-religion. Aside from the usual warm-up drills and pep talks, they rely on pre-game rituals to psych themselves up.

“Rituals are psychological, something you become comfortable with,” explains Cathy Parson, head coach of the women’s basketball team of Howard University, in an interview with the student paper, The Hilltop.

Rituals and superstitions range from common practices like praying and singing, to more bizarre habits like insisting on wearing the same pair of socks to every game and avoiding the cutting of fingernails until the end of the tournament.

“You can’t discount luck as one of your winning factors—the kind that keeps you safe from injury and keeps the umpire fair,” says the Lady Shuttlers’ captain, Lisa Encarnacion, naming her “lucky” shorts, socks, and hair accessories as must-haves.

Lady Batter Antoinette Altomonte shares, “There’s a song I always listen to before games. It helps pull my focus onto the game and just the game.”

On the other hand, Lady Trackster Poly Villar says that music is a distraction for her. “Two days before and during the game, I intentionally don’t listen to any music. It gets stuck in my head and I can’t focus,” she shares.

These rituals hold a power that can be experienced only by the athlete, making them very personal for each player. This is precisely why athletes become attached to their rituals and make it a point to repeat them before every game.

“Skipping the ritual rattles me, and I think that affects my nerves a bit. I’m not sure it affects my game, but it takes a bit longer for me to calm my nerves,” says Altomonte.

For Ina Yulo, captain of the softball team, sticking to her ritual helps get her in the zone. “I wear glitter headbands during games. When I put them on, it kind of puts me into game mode, and reminds me that ‘this is it,’” she says.

In the same article in The Hilltop, Greg Carr of the African American Studies Department of Howard University says, “A pre-game ritual is an extension of the game.” The article explains that rituals allow athletes to visualize the game ahead of time, relaxing the mind, body and soul.

The appeal of rituals and superstitions lies on its effectiveness on a player or team’s performance. Carr continues, “If you do a thing once and win, why change? A ritual ceases to be a ritual when it loses its link to your perception of control.”

A more scientific approach

Others apply science to their pre-game rituals by watching videos of professional athletes. “I imagine myself being in those situations, and I think of the possible events that could happen,” explains Faustino, who prepares for his goalkeeping duties by watching YouTube clips.

Lady Trackster Meggie Ochoa shares that her coach’s sports psychology methods improved her performance. “These videos help me in my visual training, where I correct my form using visualization. It helps a lot, especially since you can’t keep doing the actual movements the night before your competition because you need to rest,” says Ochoa.

Research shows that the body reacts to these visual simulations as if the athlete was physically performing. This allows the athlete to gain confidence in his or her specific sport, in much the same way some people rehearse a conversation in their head before actually engaging in it. “Seeing” themselves do well in their sport enables them to believe winning is possible.

Reaping what you sow

However, even after all the rituals are performed and all the sweaty jerseys and socks are reused, victory still depends on the amount of time and effort an athlete puts into his training. “I train, I work, I compete for every inch then I win. I want my victories to be the result of buckets of sweat, sacrifice and commitment,” says Trackster Geelo Arayata. Faustino asserts, “I’d rather bank on hard work and dedication.”

Indeed, at the end of the day, win or lose, most athletes will agree that it’s hardly about the jersey or routines. “You reap what you sow,” says Golla. “If you don’t put in the work, it will show.”

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