Dr. Joan’s Sports Psych Talk: What’s luck got to do with it?
Dr. Joan’s Sports Psych Talk-
How much does luck play a part in an athlete’s success?
Lucky charms have been handed down for centuries. The modern day athlete still holds onto items to alleviate anxiety. There are different names for these items, or rituals used to bring them luck on race day or for rewards following successes.
What initially brought all this up was an interview with a rowing champ, Marin resident Kristy Wentzel. She was part of the Junior National Team who went to the Worlds in France in 2009 and won as a rower in the Marin Rowing Association’s Junior National Girl’s 8+. A San Anselmo resident and recent Branson grad, Kristy had a homemade bracelet that I noticed during the course of our conversation. She described it as a “Friendship Bracelet.” Everyone in the boat made them in the colors of their team. The bracelets were made in the red, black, and white representing the colors of Marin Rowing Association. The National team bracelets were made in the colors of USA– red, white, and blue.
She took them off at the end of 2009, but keeps them around as a reminder of the successful year that Kristy and her teammates enjoyed. Speaking to Kristy recently, I learned that her Branson High School Volleyball Team won the State Championships in December. Kristy made blue and green bracelets for the team before the win as a symbol of team camaraderie and good luck. She is a committed team player in the fullest sense. Kristy views these bracelets as a symbol of successful races by just knowing they gave their all, and won. She even feels they would help her with practices as a reminder of what the team and she are capable of achieving. As she heads off to Stanford University, Kristy will take her bracelets of encouragement and know there will be many more successes to come.
A “Safe Ride Charm” is yet another creative object of support for a competitive master’s road rider and racer in Marin, whom we’ll call Ann. Ann discovered the item on a riding and racing trip to Italy. She carries the medallion called the “Chapel of Madonna di Ghisalo.” This represents the Patron Saint of Cyclists. Italians are crazy for cycling so it’s no wonder they have such a saint. She acquired the item on a 2006 trip to Italy somewhere near Lake Como. Consequently, she competed in a large cycling race (8,500 participants) called the Maratona dles Dolomites. This race is 175 kilometers, with no less than seven Dolomite passes to cross. Ann felt particularly good about her participation, especially since she may have been the oldest woman in the race. Since acquiring the medallion, Ann takes it everywhere to keep her safe–not just while riding bikes–but she feels it holds special significance during cycling races.
Yet another good luck charm carried by a man, was simply call “The Bullet.” It was just that– a bullet that he got from his father’s drawer. John Poulson was a multi-sport athlete in his youth, playing lacrosse, ice hockey, and sailing but his bullet was most used as a reminder in ice hockey for the need to be tough and fierce in high school and later in college. Sailing for the US Sailing Team was a whole different animal than ice hockey for John. But “The Bullet” did remain a reminder to be tough and single minded. He even went to the highest levels of competition in 1980, competing in a 470 class boat for a spot in the Olympics. He came in third but not without a fight to the finish. The top two boats were on the Olympic team. Throughout his life in sports, “The Bullet” had laid the foundation for fierceness and toughness in all he does, including such activities as cycling racer and hiking adventurer. John climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2001, and is soon to be in the Himalayas for a shot at another 19,000-foot peak this September. This man just happens to be my husband, JP, with whom I’ve cycled thousands of miles with, and traveled throughout the world adventuring.
When, you look at these three very different examples of the good luck objects, you recognize the different ways that provide a message to the holder of the charm. Kristy viewed The “Friendship Bracelet” as about team camaraderie, teamwork and focus for special rowing races and volleyball competitions. For Ann, her “Safe Ride Charm” represented a safe ride in both cycling and life. Finally, John’s “Bullet” helped created fierceness and a single-minded spirit. Psychologically, athletic good luck charms help individuals in very specific ways, depending on each person’s needs.
What do you use for luck?
(Photo credits: Rowers courtesy of Marin Rowing Association; cyclists courtesy of ??; John Poulson courtesy of Joan Steideinger)
Dr. Joan Steidinger is a sports and clinical psychologist with offices in Mill Valley and San Francisco. She has been practicing sports psychology with clients ranging from recreational to pro athletes for the past 17 years.
As an athlete herself, she has been a competitive ultrarunner, Ride & Tie competitor, and ultradistance cyclist.