What do cheddar cheese, new socks, Drake, Chipotle burritos, the god Thor, magic spells and Xbox all have in common? The answer lies in the many unique rituals and superstitions that Big Green athletes employ to prepare for matches, races and games. Across all sports, men’s and women’s, individual and teams, Dartmouth athletes have created distinct routines to follow before hitting the field, court, pool or rink. Athletes vary in how much they believe in their pregame routines, but all accept them as a way of life.
Swimmer Ben Feeser ’13 begins with a carbohydrate-packed meal and finishes his routine only when he hits the water.
“Before the meet, I like to give myself time to reflect, so I pull myself out of the team and go sit by myself to focus,” Feeser said. “I listen to one song on repeat that fits the rhythm of my race and gets me fired up. I like to stay warm so I stretch my muscles every time in the exact same way and order. When the buzzer goes off for the heat before mine, I put my goggles on right as they hit the water and when I get up on the block, I always put my left foot forward and flex all of my muscles so I can feel as strong as possible before I hit the water.”
Feeser could not quite explain the motivation behind his elaborate regimen.
“This is my 10th year of year-round swimming and I add a little bit to the routine every year, but some has been the same since I was a kid,” he said. “It is ingrained and is second nature. I never forget because it wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t do it.”
Dustin Selzer ’14, an infielder on the baseball team, said he is superstitious and always follows an ornate routine.
“It’s kind of crazy, but I always put on my left shoe, then my right shoe, then tie my right laces and then finish with my left laces every time,” he said. “I do the same thing with my batting gloves, left on, right on, right strap, left strap I have to do it every time.”
Selzer has performed this ritual and others for as long as he can remember.
“I also touch every pitcher on the leg with my bat before every game and have to play with one, not zero or two, buttons undone on my jersey,” Selzer said. “I never run over the mound or step on any lines.”
While many athletes admitted that their rituals most likely do nothing to improve their performance, Selzer is adamant that his works.
“Last year when I was in a big slump, the pitching staff put a magic spell on my bat before a game,” Selzer said. “I played a great game, so every game since then they have put the spell on my bat so I am ready to go. I tried to go without the magic once and didn’t get a single hit that game.”
Volleyball middle blocker Elisa Scudder ’14 also puts her clothing and accessories on in a specific order before every game.
“It’s not something that bothers me if I don’t do it, but I guess it’s just a habit after 10 years of playing,” Scudder said.
Soccer midfielder Robin Alnas ’15 said he has a three-part ritual, which includes watching YouTube videos of his favorite players like Andres Iniesta, eating a cheddar cheese sandwich and saying a prayer to Thor, the Norse mythology god, for strength.
“It is harder to do all of this for an away game,” Alnas said. “I usually don’t forget, and if I do I am pissed even though it doesn’t really affect me.”
Erik Nordahl ’16, a member of the tennis team, admitted to being tedious about his preparations since childhood and claims he will not change, even though his teammates give him a hard time. Nordahl has eight tennis racquets and measures their tension before arranging them in his bag before each match. He bounces the ball seven times before his first serve, five times before his second serve and always gets a new ball before “a big point” if he has lost the point before.
“I am always up two hours ahead of any match and eat at least two hours ahead,” Nordahl said. “At a tournament, if I keep winning I eat at the same restaurant until I lose. I once ate Chipotle for a week.”
Cross country and track runner Dylan O’Sullivan ’15 said he was much more superstitious in high school, but that he has kept a few parts of his routine at Dartmouth.
“I am most finicky about my racing shoes they have to be tied at the perfect tightness, not too tight and not too loose,” O’Sullivan said. “I was way more superstitious in high school, but I learned that doing certain things don’t really matter and that if something didn’t go right before a race it wouldn’t mess me up. The one thing I have kept doing and do before every race is I take a tiny sip of Gatorade because I like the sugary taste in my mouth before I start.”
Football free safety Jimmy Johnson ’14 takes his grandmother’s advice and does all that he can to nap before every game because he believes it boosts performance.
“I always find a way to get [a nap] in even if it’s only for 20 minutes,” Johnson said. “If I cannot for some reason, I feel a little out of it and try to shake it off. It is so ingrained in me at this point that I just have to do it.”
Johnson shares one of his rituals with teammate Stephen Dazzo ’15. They both always wear a new piece of clothing in every game, anything from socks to a wristband.
Soccer midfielder Emma Brush ’13 said that someone on the team always reads a checklist of things to bring and players respond accordingly. Brush also has individual rituals that vary from year to year.
“Last season I had to eat a whole bag of Sour Patch Watermelons and, even though I felt like I was going to throw up, in my head it was the only thing in the world that could give me energy this season I didn’t do that though and we did much better,” Brush said. “I also have to listen to Drake songs and sag my shorts as low as they’ll go. I can’t play any other way.”
Hockey forward Eric Robinson ’14 plays Xbox or games on his phone and then takes a nap before meeting teammates in his car at 4:55 p.m.
“Before warm-ups I play two touch with a ball and then I skate out hard and turn tight in front of the net,” Robinson said. “At the end I skate a final circle and shoot a puck and then run off the ice.”
Although Robinson said he has no practical reasons for his rituals, he thinks consistency helps his season.
“I think being consistent and being in the same mind frame before every game is helpful to focus on the game and not getting in every little thing,” Robinson said.
Scudder said she tries not to be superstitious and has some of her best performances have been after her worst warm-ups.
“It’s more about feeling prepared and confident before games, instead of making sure all your little pregame rituals have gone right,” Scudder said. “Going in with the right mental state will help you so much more than making sure you’re wearing a certain pair of socks or whatever. That being said, I always say Let’s get ‘em Green’ right after the national anthem, drink out of the same water bottle and stand in the same place on the bench when the libero is in for me.”
Preparation is one of the most important components to success, but what constitutes preparation spans from seemingly silly to extremely serious and everywhere in between. But if it helps Big Green athletes feel ready to compete, anything goes!