Best Athlete Pre-Game Rituals

Best Athlete Pre-Game Rituals

Athletes are often praised for their athletic prowess, but there’s a mental aspect that most fans don’t give athletes enough credit for. Much like athletes focus on consistency with their technique, they also tend to focus on consistency with their pre-game rituals – whether it be superstition, habit, or an OCD tendency.

What many people don’t realize is just how important pre-game rituals are for athletes and just how strict athletes are about those pre-game rituals – to the point that anything getting in the way of that ritual can result in poor performance. If they don’t do things the same way every single time, it’ll throw an athlete off. 

From the outside looking in, an athlete’s pre-game ritual might seem weird, unnecessary, and redundant – especially some of the more obnoxious ones, which will make you scratch your head. To the athlete, it’s something they’ve been doing for years – even decades – and has become a part of their way of life. 

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Which Athletes Have the Best Pre-Game Rituals? 

Best Athlete Pre-Game Rituals
via Instagram (@kingjames)

Pre-game rituals are always an interesting topic because everyone has their own routine. And while some athletes like to keep it simple – listen to certain music, eat a certain meal, or do a certain workout/stretch routine – other athletes get a little wild with their pre-game rituals (some more wild than others, of course). 

At the end of the day, there’s a bit of science to it. Since there are so many things an athlete can’t control on a game-by-game basis (location, opponent, weather, etc.), pre-game rituals give them a sense of familiarity and comfortability no matter what the circumstance – helping them stay consistent and ready.

To highlight the importance – and peculiarity – of pre-game rituals in sports, we’re going to talk about 20 athletes who have the best, strangest, and most unbelievable pre-game rituals. Some of them are a little more well-known than others, but there are some you’ve likely never heard before – so prepare yourself!

1. LeBron James’ Chalk Throw

NBA players are known for rubbing talcum powder (chalk) on their hands prior to a game – which helps with their grip on the ball. While it was Michael Jordan who first popularized the chalk throw, LeBron James took it to another level and the pre-game ritual has become synonymous with his legacy. 

It all started his rookie season (2003), when he did the chalk throw for the first time. He continued doing it before every game for seven years, but stopped the ritual when he signed with Miami. After four years in South Beach, he continued the tradition when he returned to Cleveland and now does it with the Lakers.

2. Cristiano Ronaldo and His Right Foot

How many times have you watched Cristiano Ronaldo walk onto the pitch before a game? For those that have watched it time and again, you’ve probably noticed that he always makes sure to step on the field with his right foot before his left foot. No, it’s not superstition – it’s actually part of Portuguese culture. 

There’s an old Portuguese saying that says, ‘entra com a direita,’ which means ‘enter with the right.’ The saying is also popular in other cultures – including Spain, India, Indonesia, Italy, Greece, Brazil, and Russia. In an effort to respect and honor his culture, Ronaldo makes sure to always ‘enter with the right.’

3. Michael Jordan and His Lucky UNC Shorts

When Michael Jordan was drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 1984, he had a request that was strange at the time, but soon became the norm in the NBA – he asked for longer, baggier shorts. At the time, most players’ shorts were still short and tight. It turns out Jordan’s request had nothing to do with fashion.

The reason he wanted baggier shorts was so he could wear his University of North Carolina (UNC) practice shorts underneath his Bulls’ gameday shorts because he considered his UNC shorts lucky – but he didn’t want others to notice them. He maintained that superstition throughout his entire NBA career. 

4. New Zealand Rugby Team and Their Intense Haka

The New Zealand national rugby union team, nicknamed the All Blacks, has made it a tradition (a ritual, if you may) to perform a haka before every game they play. The haka is a war dance that was traditionally performed by the Māori people of New Zealand and resembled the tribe’s pride, strength, and unity. 

The tradition started with the New Zealand Natives back in the 1880s, when they performed the haka during a tour of Britain and Australia. Since 1905, the All Blacks have been performing the Ka Mate haka when they had matches overseas. In 1986, they started to perform the haka at home games, as well. 

5. Rafael Nadal and His Water Bottle Placement

Not so much a pre-game ritual, but more of an on-court ritual, I’m sure every tennis fan has heard about Rafael Nadal and his obsession with his water bottles. Before every match and during every break, you’ll see him fidget with his water bottles – something he explained for the first time in his 2012 biography. 

“I repeat the sequence, every time, before a match begins, and at every break between games, until a match is over. A sip from one bottle, and then from another. And then I put the two bottles down at my feet, in front of my chair to my left, one neatly behind the other, diagonally aimed at the court,” he wrote.

6. Stephen Curry’s Tunnel Shot

In a 2019 interview with the Golden State Warriors’ social media team, Stephen Curry explained his pre-game ritual – from the time he wakes up until gametime. It includes the same breakfast, a nap, and a pre-game playlist – and that’s all before he even gets to the arena. That’s when things get serious. 

Before he walks out of the locker room, he yells ‘Hold ‘em up!’ as he runs through the hallway. He has an extensive shooting routine that he does before every game. He takes a shot from the tunnel, signs a few autographs, and sprints his way back to the locker room before getting locked in for a great night. 

7. Kobe Bryant and the Halloween Theme Song

Kobe Bryant was one of the fiercest basketball players of all-time. We often hear about his ‘Mamba Mentality,’ which is the type of mentality no basketball player can ever duplicate – they can try and imitate it, but there’s simply no one like him. And one of his pre-game rituals explains that notion perfectly. 

In an interview after his playing days were over, he said he used to play the Halloween theme song over and over in his headphones before certain marquee games – not just once or twice, but enough that it would make most people crazy. It was something he said might make him sound psychotic, but it worked. 

8. Tiger Woods Wearing Red on Sunday

There’s nothing more iconic in the history of golf than Tiger Woods wearing a red shirt on Sunday. It’s something he has done his entire career – even dating back to his amateur days. “I’ve worn red ever since my college days basically, or junior golf days – big events on the last day,” he said of the ritual. 

The superstition stemmed from a piece of advice his mother, Kultia Woods, gave him at a young age. “I wear red on Sundays because my mom thinks that is my power colour. You know, you should always listen to your mom,” he said of the tradition. It’s an iconic look for an iconic and legendary champion. 

9. Serena Williams and Her Unwashed Socks

I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand wearing sweaty and dirty socks – to the point I almost always change them well before it gets to that point. Then again, maybe I should start giving it a try because Serena Williams has made a career of it and she seems to be doing pretty well for herself these days.

For those who haven’t heard this one, Serena has been known to wear the same socks – unwashed – throughout a tournament, so long as she keeps winning. Even during a Grand Slam event, Serena will go nearly two weeks without washing her socks if she makes it to the final – which she has time and again.

10. Kevin Garnett and His Stanchion Routine

Kevin Garnett was one of the most intense basketball players of all-time and was never afraid to show it. He wore his heart on his sleeve and was always giving 110% and did it with the type of attitude we might never see in the NBA ever again. In fact, you can say the same thing about his intense pre-game ritual.

Before every game, he would walk over to the stanchion (the padded area under the basket) and start to adjust his uniform – all while mumbling under his breath. The more locked in he got, the more intense he got. Before heading back to center court to start the game, he would headbut the stanchion a few times.

11. Dwyane Wade and His Rim Pull-Ups

Dwyane Wade never banged his head against the stanchion, but he did have himself an iconic pre-game ritual that helped get his body (and biceps) warmed up before tip-off. The Hall of Fame shooting guard would stand under the rim, jump up and grab the rim, and do three pull ups to match his No. 3 jersey. 

In 2020, he explained the inspiration behind the routine and it all started when he attended a Raptors’ game as a freshman in college. He saw Vince Carter grab the net and do chin ups before the game started and Wade liked it so much that he adopted something similar once he made it to the NBA. 

12. Calvin Johnson and His Yoga Routine

Calvin Johnson didn’t have an extensive pre-game ritual like Stephen Curry. Instead, his routine mostly consisted of waking up, stretching, and getting treatment before the game – but there is one thing that might surprise you about the 6-foot-5, 236-pound beast of a receiver. He was a yoga enthusiast. 

It’s something he would do before every game and a big reason why is Drew Stanton – a teammate of his while with the Detroit Lions. Stanton’s wife was a yoga instructor and she helped introduce him to the phenomenon that’s a regular part of most of our lives today. He’s in the Hall of Fame now, so it worked!

13. Michael Phelps and His Back Slaps

Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian of all-time with 28 medals – 23 of which are gold medals – so he was obviously doing something right. And before each of those medals, he would do this little ‘back slap’ stretch – where he would swing his 6-foot-7 wingspan across his body and slap his back. 

That’s not all. He also explained a little bit more about his pre-game routine in an interview with Speedo – and it sounds tiring!. “I do the same exact warm-up now that I’ve done for the last 14 years, 13 years,” he said of his pre-game ritual. “800, 600, 400, 200, swim-kick-pull drill, then I do a couple 25s. That’s it.” 

14. John Henderson Gets Slapped in the Face

When Kobe Bryant explained his Halloween theme song ritual, he said that it might make him look a little psychotic to some people. If he thought that was psychotic, he never met John Henderson – a 6-foot-7, 335-pound defensive tackle who had one of the best (and most intense) pre-game rituals I’ve ever heard. 

Before every game, Henderson had one of the team’s staff members or coaches slap him in the face. And we’re not talking about one of those half-effort slaps – these were some real slaps that would likely leave a red mark on my face if it were me. He was a two-time Pro Bowler in the NFL, so it must’ve worked well.

15. Bill Russell’s Pre-Game Vomit

Bill Russell won 11 championships with the Boston Celtics between 1957 and 1969 – for reference, most superstars in the NBA today struggle to get one, let alone multiple, let alone 11 of them. So, what was his secret? Well, it might not be a secret, but he allegedly used to throw up before every game he played. 

“To Bill, every game-every championship game-was a challenge, a test to his manhood. He took the game so seriously that he threw up in the locker room before almost every game. But I tend to look at basketball as a game, not a life or death struggle,” Wilt Chamberlain wrote of Russell in his biography. 

16. Josh Allen’s Pre-Game Vomit

Bill Russell isn’t the only athlete with a vomit-filled pre-game ritual. These days, it’s Buffalo Bills’ star quarterback Josh Allen who needs to empty his stomach before hitting the field on gameday. He has talked about it on numerous occasions and isn’t shy about making fun of himself over his quirky ritual. 

“It’s not like an anxiety, like I don’t feel it anywhere else, I just get this weird like gaggy sensation – I know it sounds weird. And, like, I’m a creature of habit. I’m slightly superstitious – I might not be superstitious, but I’m a little-stitious,” he said on The Von Cast podcast – with a perfectly-timed The Office reference. 

17. Justin Tucker Lays Out His Uniform 

Justin Tucker, much like Stephen Curry, has a very extensive pre-game routine that starts in the morning and extends until kickoff. Between 7:45 and 10:00 in the morning, he brushes his teeth (with Crest), takes a hot shower, does his hair, has his first cup of morning joe, and has a big breakfast (with more coffee). 

He then gets dressed and heads to the stadium – with another cup of coffee, of course – but he never drives there himself. Instead, he hitches a ride with a teammate who happens to be leaving at the same time. In the locker room, he always has his uniform laid out in the shape of a person out on the floor. 

18. Harrison Smith Takes a Shot of Hot Sauce

Harrison Smith is one of the hardest-hitting safeties in the NFL, so what gets him so hyped up to make those big hits when Sunday rolls around? While he’s not always hungry, he eats the same pregame meal that consists of a cup of coffee, half of a plain bagel, and a shot of – you guessed it – Tabasco hot sauce.

“It wakes me up,” Smith said in an interview with ESPN. “I can’t have too much coffee or I’ll cramp up easily, but the hot sauce is mandatory.” While it’s unclear how big the shot is, I’m not sure it really matters – it’s bound to wake anyone up. I guess we all have our quirks and this is just another one of them!

19. George Kittle Reads a Letter From His Father

George Kittle is one of the greatest personalities in the NFL right now – he’s an all-around great dude who always has a smile on his face and never misses an opportunity to crack a joke. With that said, he has a bit of a sentimental and touching ritual that helps to prove what type of stand-out guy Kittle really is. 

Ever since he was a sophomore at Iowa University, Kittle reads a letter written by his father – it’s a new letter every week and it contains words of inspiration, trash talk, notes about his opponent, and things he can improve on. The letter helps Kittle get ready for the game ahead and he does it every single week.

20. Jason Kelce Listens to Christmas Music

I know not everyone will agree with me, but I can’t stand Christmas music and do my best to avoid it at all times – even during the holidays. For Philadelphia Eagles’ center Jason Kelce, he listens to it from September until January (or February, if he makes it to the Super Bowl) as part of his pre-game ritual.

In fact, he loves Christmas music so much that he – along with his Eagles’ offensive linemates – recorded a Christmas music album last year and it was actually pretty entertaining (even for someone like me, who isn’t down with Xmas music). The album is titled, ‘A Philly Special Christmas’ and it’s available to stream. 

The Psychological Benefits of Pre-Game Rituals

When you’re getting paid millions of dollars to play a sport – or at least trying to get to that point – you’ll do whatever it takes to be the best version of yourself on a daily basis. Anything that’s going to help you play better and perform to the best of your ability should and will be considered – nothing’s off the table. 

For some athletes, pre-game rituals give them that edge. It helps them prepare for what’s ahead, helps get them in the right frame of mind, and helps ease the nerves that come on gameday. They boost confidence, welcome a sense of control, reduce anxiety, and provide a sense of normalcy or familiarity.

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At the same time, pre-game rituals can have a negative effect on an athlete’s performance – especially when that ritual becomes more of an obsession or compulsion. When that happens, the ritual can have an adverse effect and become a distraction. So, follow that pre-game ritual – but be reasonable about it.

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