Very superstitious: Pitt athletes share individual rituals

By Logan Hitchcock / For The Pitt News

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Two hours before the rest of her team came, Samantha Winkelmann entered the doors to Trees Pool. Surrounded by empty bleachers that would fill later that day, she began her day in solitude, careful not to stray from the extensive detail of her routine.

After she finished her final practice dive, she pulled herself out of the water and systematically worked her way through a mental checklist.

“Pepperidge Farm Goldfish pretzels — check. Raisinets — check. Frost Glacier Freeze Gatorade — check,” she thought to herself.

With everything accounted for, Winkelmann relaxed.

“I don’t remember how [the daily routine] started,” Winkelmann, a junior diver, said. “Diving is all about habits and consistency. Whoever is the most consistent wins.”

For many athletes — professional, collegiate or otherwise — routines and superstitions matter more than anywhere else.

“My mom forgot to get me Goldfish pretzels once. She got graham cracker, and I ended up hitting the board,” Winkelmann said. “It was the worst meet of my life.”

Athletes and fans alike embrace and adopt meticulous, exhaustive practices they believe to be necessary rituals for peak performance. They habitually complete these rituals to create good luck and bring a desired outcome.

“I think of superstitions as something that you do to make you feel mentally prepared for the task at hand, something that puts in you in the mindset to say, ‘I’m ready to go,’” Hobie Harris, a senior pitcher on the baseball team, said.

Music is key to Harris’ pregame rituals.

“I have one pregame playlist that I use. Regardless of game time, if we are home or on the road, I always use that playlist and start with the same song,” he said.

Skillet’s “Whispers in the Dark” always begins Harris’ playlist, but the most particular point of his ritual doesn’t come until he actually takes the mound.

“I sprint to the mound and never step on the mound until I have the ball. I pick up the ball with my throwing hand, put it between my legs into my glove, and then finally step on the mound,” he said.

Nick Zanetta, a redshirt sophomore wrestler, is less particular than Winkelmann and Harris, but said he still relies on a familiar meal and music to prepare him for an upcoming match.

“I eat the same thing every time. Turkey on wheat with lettuce and tomato, and I have to have a chocolate chip Cliff Bar,” Zanetta said.

Zanetta does not stop there. It takes a pregame pep talk with his older brothers and a heavy dosage of rock music, specifically AC/DC, to prepare him for the upcoming meet.

While the athletes and fans often use “routine” and “superstition” interchangeably, there is a slight difference.

“Superstitions are normally attached with a negative connotation,” Aimee Kimball, former director of mental health training at the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine, said. “A superstition is usually indicated by an individual fear that if an athlete or fan doesn’t do something, it will result in a negative outcome.”

On the other hand, it is necessary for athletes to have a routine.

“I have athletes come to me who do not have a routine, and are experiencing inconsistent performances,” Kimball said. “In this instance, I help them build a routine and try to make sure that the routine is something they can always control.”

Controlling their routines and superstitions is a tedious act, but a necessary one.

“I think superstitions are definitely essential to doing what you’re good at,” Zanetta said.

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