Smoked salmon, eggs and superstition

Heather Watson, who has become the first British woman to make it through to the third round of Wimbledon for a decade, puts her success down to having  the same breakfast every day – smoked salmon and scrambled eggs on toast. She also has a ritual of running to pass the ballboy her towel each time she changes ends.

Perhaps salmon is good for you, but superstition has an important role in sport.

At our Annual Conference earlier this year Patrick Ofori from the University of Stirling presented the results of interviews with 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 - a technique for discovering how individuals make sense of their personal and social worlds. The analysis 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.”