Nick is a sophomore at USC, founder of the Club Wrestling Team here on campus, and has been awarded the All-American title at the National Wrestling Tournament two years in a row.
“I always follow the same pre-match routine. It’s pretty standard for wrestlers to have their own weird superstitions about going into a match – we’re a team but it’s still an individual sport so that puts a lot of pressure on you and having little rituals you do every time helps you take your mind off it. So yeah my routine… after weigh-ins, the first thing I consume is a sugar free energy drink. Same kind every time – Monster, the green flavor. I wear the same pair of boxers for every competition. It doesn’t matter if I wrestled the day before and they’re dirty. Kinda gross, but they’re the pair I won fourth place at states in during my sophomore year of high school, and so they’re kinda my good luck charm – I can’t go into a match without them. Twenty minutes prior to my match, I listen to the same Shwayze playlist on repeat. It’s pretty old school but I only listen to it before a match, so it always gets me into the same mindset. As soon as I get on the mat, I make sure to put my ankleband on on the edge of the mat. Once it is on, I face away from the mat and bounce a multiple of 4 times (4,8,12, etc). Only when the referee calls me to the center do I turn around and bounce another multiple of 4 times. Then, I bend over, tap the mat 2 times and run to the center to shake hands with my opponent. And then we wrestle. And usually I win.
By following the same routine before every match, I’m able to compete in the same mindset every single time. I know that these little routines will get me mentally ready. There’ve been times where circumstances kept me from following the routines, and I try not to let that distract me, but honestly when that happens it really throws me off.”
It’s not unusual for sports teams to take part in rituals before competitions, but the practice of pre-match rituals within the wrestling community is almost inherent part of the sport. The duality of competing as an individual while also competing for a team is reflected in the way wrestlers carry this out. While in general rituals are carried out by a group of people, wrestlers’ pre-match rituals are extremely individualized and solitary, in the same way that he will enter the mat to face his competitor alone. For wrestlers, each team-member having his own unique set of superstitions and practices to execute constitutes the larger overall ritual that the whole team takes part in. The importance doesn’t so much lie in the specific content of each wrestler’s routine; the importance is in simply having one.
Fitting with this idea, no specific part of Nick’s pre-match ritual seemed overwhelmingly significant other than to provide repetition before each match to ‘get into the right mindset’. The dirty boxers serve as a sort of contagious-magic totem of good luck: it was in these that he won his first major competition, and he continues to wear them with the belief that this success is somehow weaved into their threads and that in wearing them he will, again, succeed.
As we studied in class, properly executing the ritual is necessary for the success of whatever you are trying to accomplish. Being an individual sport, all success – and all failure – is on the individual competing. These sorts of rituals are so prevalent in the wrestling community because it is perhaps easier to blame a lost match on the inability to carry out one’s ritual properly than to admit you were simply ill-prepared or over-matched.