Swimming Superstitions: The “Magic” Behind Your Success

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Photos Courtesy: Peter H. Bick & USA TODAY Sports

By Ashleigh Scott, Swimming World College Intern.

“Don’t step on the cracks, or you’ll break your mother’s back!” “Be sure not to jinx it…” “Knock on wood!”

We’ve all heard these lines. These are the types of things people say when they believe that doing or saying something will bring bad luck or misfortune – superstitions, if you will.

In the world of athletics, superstitions are quite common. More often than not, athletes have a “shtick” – a gimmick or routine that they believe is crucial to their athletic performance. This type of behavior can start from a very young age and carries over as the athlete gets older and more competitive. Here are some common superstitions that are seen among a variety of athletes but are also particular to swimmers.


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Photo Courtesy: Kate Sweeney

While eating before a race is important for sustaining energy, food can become a topic of grand specificity for swimmers before a race. Maybe it’s eating specific snacks in certain amounts or drinking only coffee a couple of hours before the race. If a swimmer is at a meet and forgets their favorite crackers at home, they could very well think it’s game over. Having to settle for the blue electrolyte drink instead of orange could cause panic. So, snacks are not only a form of fueling for an athlete but are also crucial to an their mental performance.


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We’ve all heard those stories about that “lucky gym sock.” It reeks of sweat and screams that it has been used multiple times but never once washed. There is a reason for that: it’s good luck. Clearly, this athlete wore that sock once and performed in an outstanding way. Washing the sock may wash away the chances of having those same rewarding results.

This also applies to swimming. Wearing a certain sweater on deck before the race or using a certain brand of goggles are both examples of a clothing-related superstition. That red sweater you wore at that meet when you were 13 and took two whole seconds off of your 50 free was also worn when you got your trials cut by .01. This sweater now proves to be a necessity at every meet. This holds true not only when you are a younger athlete but also years later into your career. Those pink goggles with a black stripe down the strap – no, not the light pink ones, the medium-light pink ones. Obviously. Those medium-light pink goggles were the pair you wore when you had your best splits in your 200 IM and when you anchored the record-breaking relay. Those goggles are really something special. Does this sound familiar?



Photo Courtesy: Laura Hamel/U.S. Masters Swimming

Listen to some music before changing into your tech suit. Then do an activation routine. Finally, take off your sweatshirt before walking up to the blocks, but always keep your shoes on. Swaying in any way from this routine could, in the mind of a swimmer, cause bad luck. You have done this routine during every swim meet and you believe it to be essential.

Routines are crucial for swimmers. They create a sense of organization and calm in the midst of an intense swim meet atmosphere. Every swimmer’s routine is different and has different aspects that are needed for peak performance. Maybe a swimmer’s routine is to have no routine at all, but maybe their friend’s routine is very specific and strategic. Regardless, swimmers adopt different techniques and specific methodologies that ultimately work for them in ever-changing meet environments. Whether it be a small dual meet or a large championship meet, a swimmer’s routine must remain constant wherever they go.



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A certain snack, a special piece of clothing, a very personalized routine. Whatever it may be, swimmers have their own special thing that makes them unique and unstoppable. Superstitions are part of sports and empower athletes to find what makes them feel the most comfortable and confident. Some people may ask, “Why does it matter?” and the response to that question revolves around a drive for success. All athletes want to perform to the best of their abilities, and to do that is just as much mental as it is physical. Believing in positive vibes and being confident that success will come are crucial to an athlete’s strong mental game, and superstitions contribute to this.

Asking Around:

Superstitions vary from swimmer to swimmer, and it’s always interesting to see what types of superstitions each swimmer has. For instance, Jack Dolan, an incoming freshman at Arizona State University, says,”One thing I always do before finals is that [I have to be] the last person to take off my clothes. It makes me feel like I’ll be the warmest and gives me a slight edge over everyone.” Another example is Nick Torres, an incoming freshman at the University of Notre Dame, says, “When I’m at the blocks, I hit the side of my quad five to six times on both legs before I step up on the block.”

Both of these athletes are unique and have their own version of what makes them feel the most confident before a race. Maybe another swimmer feels like taking their clothes off first will make them feel the most prepared, while perhaps someone else hits their quad seven or eight times. Specifics are important in classifying a certain action as a superstition, as it all comes down to that action remaining consistent at each competition. In the end, every athlete has their own special ways of feeling totally ready to achieve their highest level of success.

So, what’s your swim meet shtick?

-All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.