Sports Ritual — Certain Victory


Informant (P) is a student studying computer science with a minor in linguistics.

Main Piece:

I: Can you tell me about the words we had on our hands?

P: Yeah, it was 必赢 (bì yíng). We basically both had one of the words and we both wrote it on each other’s hands, with a pen, since we’re both right-handed. It means “certain victory” even though we definitely did not win all of our matches. But it’s fine, it was our special little thing. Better than when people did the racket hitting after they won a point.


The informant was my doubles partner throughout high school badminton. We wrote the words before each match that we played.

Analysis: This is an example of a ritual that my informant and I created and performed. Writing down the words on our hands was something we both saw from a sports show where a duo did the same thing, and we decided to incorporate it into our pre-match traditions as well. Sports rituals are a common practice—the outcome of a game or match is always unknown, so many athletes consistently perform some sort of ritual as a way to control the uncertain and connect with a non-human, sacred realm. In our particular case, as we were both right-handed, we had the words on our right hand (though this didn’t happen all the time). This act is an example of contagion magic, since the hand with the word would be in contact with the racket to further “strengthen” the power of this belief.