Routines, rituals and superstitions in sports betting

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If in life there is always some degree of superstition, in sports and in gambling, because they mess with our emotions and our pockets, these irrational beliefs are exaggerated. Routines, rituals and superstitions in betting.


And I’ll say it again: irrational. To think that by performing a certain ritual we’ll affect a sporting outcome is just irrational. Because I’m a controversial person, I love black cats and 13 is my favourite number.

It was always my number while I played. Because that doesn’t affect the sporting performance at all. Just like going in with your right or left foot or jumping.

They’re just mental pads to make you feel more comfortable. They work either as cognitive excuses (especially if the result is not what we expected) or as mental tranquilizers (because we are putting the weight on a supernatural entity, whether it’s a religious one or not).

But let’s start with Psychology. A superstition is a belief that, even without the existence of scientific evidence, certain behaviours have a causal relationship with certain outcomes. These rituals are different from pre-competitive routines, which are sequences of preferred actions or repetitive forms of behaviour before the task or gesture.

That is, whenever we see a tennis player bouncing the ball a certain number of times or a rugby player taking the same number of steps back and forth before a penalty kick, they are performing a routine to focus on the moment, without going into the process of rumination (that is, always thinking about a past event) or the process of anxiety regarding a future event.

Because athletes know that the secret of good performance in a task, play or game depends on keeping themselves focused on the moment of action

Once upon a time, a player from a team I followed missed a an easy goalscoring chance in the first few minutes of his debut for the team. He confessed to me at the end that he was thinking about that play throughout the whole game.

That is, he was ruminating over that event over and over and was never fully focused again. Realizing that he was an athlete who could have a tendency to ruminate, I made him concentrate on the most important thing in a football game: the ball.

He had to “talk” to the ball at all times, whether he was with it or not. That’s the only way I could get him to be focused on the present moment.

Did it work? He was one of our top goal scorers. All because he focused on what’s really important. Changing sports, those “tics” we see Nadal doing before each service are a routine where he reviews what happened in the previous play and anticipates what he has to do in the next point.


There is only complete control by the athlete over his preparation and execution, and not an external or supernatural entity. Thus, routines and rituals are distinguished by internal or external control and by the rational or irrational purpose of the actions.

Now tell me, as gamblers, how many irrational rituals do you have or support when you bet? From not watching the game, betting with your left hand, not wanting to see the results, these are all things that don’t have any impact on the outcome of the event.

The gambler clings onto chains of irrational connections (and usually the rituals grow in size and duration) in the hope that it will bring him luck. And what’s wrong with that?

Well, it’s a problem whenever these beliefs affect the analysis and the placed bets. Like I’ve mentioned in another article about the fact that betting on one’s own team can affect the ability to analyse properly, believing that irrational factors can influence the outcome of a game is also a gambler’s mistake.

As I said, a professional gambler (or at least one who has the will to make money from gambling) has to get rid of the emotion and irrationality as much as possible.

During my years as an athlete and especially since I started following athletes and teams, I’ve found dozens of superstitions

So serious that in professional sport is any coach, doctor, physiotherapist, wardrobe manager or psychologist, who enters a club and doesn’t make them win is labelled as “unlucky”. I would say that I was lucky to have good results in the teams that I followed. I’ve never been called “bad luck charm”, but also whenever I’ve heard it being called to other people, I’ve tried to explain how irrational that is.

That in any activity what matters the most is competence and not other factors. I saw coaches being labelled as unlucky when the problem was physical, technical or tactical.

I saw players who instead of training aspects related to their position, worried about putting their socks on inside out or playing with a rosary in their underwear. One of the best-known footballing curses was created by Béla Gutmann.

The Hungarian coach, furious at having been side-lined by SL Benfica’s board, prophesied that they would never win a European Final without him. On March 6th of 1968.


And in some of them, they even took land from the grave of the late coach. All because it’s easier to blame the curse than to realise that in one of the finals the opponents was the very strong AC Milan side with the 3 Dutch superstars (and it still ended 1-0), in the other the right-back missed the decisive penalty after being the man of the match up until that point, in another one they were impaired by the referee against Sevilla and only lost on penalties and that against Chelsea they conceded a goal in the 92nd minute.

If there was bad luck? There was, as there is in every game. Is it because of what a gentleman said fifty years ago? No. Just like Maracanazo’s Brazil lost to Uruguay because of a goalkeeping error and 7-1 to Germany because they were much inferior to the Germans.

We tend to try and find explanations like superstitions, ghosts or aliens because it’s easier. It’s hard to analyse the mistake. When you win a bet, you think your analysis was fantastic. We hardly appreciate that there was a shot that hit the post when it is in our favour or that there was an own goal when we needed the “Over”.

But if we lose a bet, we easily give in to the temptation of not analysing why and just saying “Oh, I was unlucky!”. Whether it’s in gambling, sports or even life.

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