How rituals and religion help footballers cope with pressure

Superstitions can help footballers control their anxiety before a game. That was the conclusion of research presented at the British Psychology Society Annual Conference in 2012.

Patrick Ofori from the University of Stirling interviewed 10 members of the Ghana team taking part in the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa about their superstitions and religious experiences. These included both formal religious rituals and individual superstitions like a lucky mascot

Comments from the players included, “My prayers give me self-belief in my abilities and confidence to play without fear", and “I feel really good any time that I do them and am able to play well too.”

The interviews were transcribed and then analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. This is a technique for discovering how individuals make sense of their personal and social worlds.The analysis of the transcripts revealed that superstitious and religious rituals can be helpful or unhelpful to players depending how they are learned.

Patrick Ofori commented: “Coaches and psychologists should encourage athletes to own their rituals and integrate them into their wider coping strategies, because our findings suggest that superstitions and religious rituals can help immunise elite footballers against anxiety. They seem to increase their self-confidence and make them feel more in control of events too.”