The Olympics ended Sunday, but for avid speed skating fans a few questions still remain to be answered. For one, why did Apolo Anton Ohno keep yawning before races? Was the most decorated American Winter Olympian in history tired? Bored?
No. After watching a post-race interview with Ohno, I can confidently say the American short track speed skater was neither tired nor bored. The yawns relax his facial muscles and help him prepare for competition, Ohno explained. Also helping him prepare for his outstanding performances were his music, headphones and signature bandanas, which he wore fervently for each event. As most sports fanatics know, Ohno is certainly not alone in his pre-game rituals. The question remains as to whether or not these superstitions actually influence an athlete’s performance.
“It’s very helpful for players to have consistent rituals, both for pregame preparation and during competition,” said Mary Fry, an associate professor at University of Kansas, Lawrence in the Department of Health, Sport, and Exercise Sciences. “Rituals help athletes maximize their performance under pressure. Without rituals many athletes have a tendency to speed up or slow down their regular play, making them more susceptible to making errors.”*
As Fry explains, rituals help athletes to get into their zone. And this theory doesn’t just apply to Olympic-level or professional athletes. Despite my lack of coordination, I have been playing in an adult dodgeball league for the past two months. Every Saturday at 1 o’clock, my teammates and I faithfully arrive at the local gym, ready to dodge, duck, dip, dive and…. Dodge. This weekend, we took third place in the championships and I think our success was due in part to the logo apparel we wore routinely for every game. Our pink shirts, imprinted with the league name and company sponsors, helped the team look unified, feel more confident and thus perform better.
We might not be ready for the Olympics, but we’ll take logo apparel and a bronze medal any day!
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*as quoted in an article by Nicolas Roesler in the Daily Kansan