Tuesday, March 15, 2011

PoolSynergy: Pre-Tournament Rituals

Wow, it's the 15th of March already... and that means it's time for another episode of:
PoolSynergy is a blog carnival where several pool bloggers conspire together each month to write about a common topic. Charles Eames is this month's host and he suggested we discuss tips for tournament preparation.

Thinking through my preparation for major tournaments made me realize that even though I haven't been competing all that long, I've already developed several consistent rituals... and that in turn made me think about the value of rituals in general.

Unless you don't follow sports at all, you've undoubtedly heard of or even witnessed some of the pre-competition rituals that athletes have to 'prepare' themselves for the upcoming battle: some wear special clothes under their uniforms - Michael Jordan, for example, always wore his Tar Heels shorts under his Chicago Bulls uniform.

Countless athletes don 'lucky' underwear or socks under their uniform (the scary part is that many of these lucky garments are never washed... ever!)

Similarly, some athletes always wear the same or similar clothes on the way to a game. Marshall Faulk, for example, always wore black. Some wear special jewelry. Women athletes may do their makeup a certain way prior to competition which I suppose could be considered a matter of practicality in some cases, but probably goes beyond that for some. I've noticed that a friend polishes her nails in an unusual way prior to a big tournament, for example.

Many pro hockey players let their beards grow during playoffs.

Some athletes have been known to sleep in uniform items from the opposing team.

Some athletes get a little more physical: UFC fighter Georges St-Pierre tweaks his nipples shortly after he enters the ring. NFL player John Henderson elicits a slap from his trainer just before each game:

Athletes often eat a certain meal prior to competition. Chicken is popular (Wade Boggs and others). Various forms of pasta also seems to be popular. My high school football coach often organized spaghetti or lasagna dinners for the team the night before an important game.

The question is: do these rituals serve a useful purpose or are they just silly superstitions? Many would be hard pressed to find purpose behind the above examples. Sure, some might be justified one way or another - nutritional benefits of certain meals, for example... but ritual meals are rarely considered to be optimum sports nutrition.

There are rituals that have more readily identified purpose, of course. I always put extra care into preparing my equipment before a major competition, for example... making sure I have enough chalk, my tips are in good shape, shafts smooth, etc. In my football days, I was a ball handler and therefore always got my ankles taped before games to prevent ankle injuries and so on. These rituals obviously have more identifiable purpose, but I intentionally avoided such rituals in the examples above.

The question is: What benefit, if any, do we derive from rituals that seemingly do not have a direct, concrete purpose?

Having competed in numerous sports over the years, I'm very familiar with pre-competition rituals... but I'll admit I never put much thought into potential 'real' benefits even though I took (and thoroughly enjoyed) a couple of psychology courses in college.

That is, until I ran across a discussion on the subject it in Jack Koehler's Upscale Nine-Ball. It hit me like a ton of bricks, actually.

Made. Perfect. Sense.

I'll assume most of us are at least reasonably familiar with the differences between left-brain and right-brain processing. If not, check out one or more of the previously discussed 'mental' books on pool.

Understanding these differences is key to knowing the principles behind teachings such as being completely settled on how your shot will play out before getting down into the shooting stance, for example. Your conscious 'thinking' about the shot should then ideally yield to the subconscious routine of executing the shot.

Anyway, let me get to the point here. It's generally agreed that pool is mostly a mental sport. It therefore makes sense that you want your brain prepared and engaged to the greatest extent possible - particularly prior to an important match or tournament.

The left brain understands and processes language. It 'gets it' whenever you read a tournament flyer or an entry in your calendar... or talk to someone about an upcoming tournament. The right brain doesn't pick it up so easily, though. Since the right brain is attuned to sensory inputs - audible, visual, taste, etc... it gets its cues from things you're actually doing and experiencing and therefore rituals can give your right brain that 'heads up' that an important competition is on the horizon.

So bring on the rituals! (as long as no humans or animals are injured in the process)

Be sure to check out tournament prep tips from all the other PoolSynergy Blogologists.


  1. Not sure that I buy the right brain benefiting in any way from the kinds of rituals you mention, but I do agree that they usually don't hurt so why not. The downside I see is that if you ever lose you lucky charm, you're screwed if you don't believe you can win without it.

  2. really interesting take on rituals gary; i've not thought about it from this angle. great post!

  3. Nice analysis on the left vs right brain. I need to remember this one!