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Rituals and religion can help athletes control anxiety

Apr 23rd, 2012
Staff Writer

Photo credit: wikimedia commonsRituals, such as wearing a "lucky" shirt or washing your golf ball exactly three times during a round, have a purpose in sports, experts say. They help athletes control anxiety.

That's the conclusion of a study presented at the British Psychology Society annual conference, held last week in London. Researchers explored rituals, religious practices and superstitions among a group of athletes -- a group of soccer players from Ghana attending the 2010 FIFA World Cup tournament.

Psychologists' interviews with the athletes were transcribed and analyzed using a technique that helps uncover how individuals make sense of their personal and social worlds. The study showed that superstitions and rituals can be helpful -- such as by controlling anxiety.

One player remarked: "My prayers give me self-belief in my abilities and confidence to play without fear."

“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 immunize elite footballers against anxiety," said the lead author of the study Patrick Ofori, of the University of Stirling. "They seem to increase their self-confidence and make them feel more in control of events too.”