Tag Archives: sports ritual

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.

Dropping the Baton sports belief

The following interaction illustrates a folk belief relating to a former student-athlete in high-school track & field relating coach/student view that dropping a relay baton during practice will bode ill for the actual race.


For convenience, the interviewee has been marked as ‘A’, and the documenter has been marked as ‘Q.’ The interaction proceeded as such:


A., I don’t know if this is true for every track and field team, but if you drop the baton like if you were on the relay team and you dropped it any time during the week before the track meets, during practice. Then you’d have to run a mile, because then for sure if you drop the baton during practice then for sure you were gonna drop the baton during the actual race.


My coach really believed it, and she would get like severely distraught any time someone dropped the baton, because it was…sacred.


I also dropped the baton and had to run a mile.

Actually, I dropped the baton multiple times. People really shame you for that.

Q. You learned all this from your coach?

A. Yeah.

Q. What does it mean to your coach?

A. What does it mean to my coach? It means we’ve just lost.


I thought it was just that particular coach, too. But we had 3 different coaches in 4 years when I was there, and all of them were like ‘you drop the baton, you go run a mile.


And I’m like, what? There’s no correlation.

I get the whole ‘practice the way you perform’ thing, but I also think that just because you drop the baton during practice that doesn’t mean you’re gonna drop it during the race.


The caution surrounding and seemingly arbitrary enforcement of a folk belief on the part of the coaches illustrated here pulls back the deep-seeded roots of those that inhabit the field of sports, in which the beliefs can take a limitless amount of forms.


As indicated here, most of them center on the matter of luck and future implications of success/victory/winning, along with their mirror image counterparts. The matter of keeping the baton in one’s hand does not determine whether one will win, but dropping it will certainly determine if the team should lose.


The most interesting aspect is the enforcement of the belief from multiple coaches throughout the years who, presumably, would not have colluded with each other for something so trivial. However, such consistency across rotation highlights the strength of certain sports beliefs no matter who or where.

The OJ Simpson Metaphor

The informant (A.H.) comes from a Black Christian family. A.H. does not identify with Christianity.

Now well retired from the game at 54 years old, A.H. played football in the NFL from 1983 to 1987; first drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles, then transferred to the Seattle Seahawks, and finally the San Francisco 49ers. Since then he has coached youth football teams, and works now as a financial analyst. A.H. was over house for dinner one Monday evening, and after our meal I interviewed him for football specific occupational folklore. I asked about the superstitions, traditions, and legends A.H. had come across during his career as a professional player.

A.H.: “I remember growing up I was a huge OJ Simpson fan. I think every kid my age that grew up in my area that wanted to be a running back wanted to be OJ. And I remember reading in an article somewhere that he never ate before games. He had said somewhere that he wanted to know what it was like to be hungry, and he thought that it would transfer over into games. I think I might have been in high-school when I read that. It affected the way that I ate, like I would never eat the night before the game or morning before the game. The interesting thing is when I coached, I passed that on to the players that I used to coach. He said something like, if you didn’t eat it would make you like a hungry dog. You would play better. Every guy has his superstition before the game… So I saw one of the kids on Facebook that I used to coach… A lot of those kids are coaches, and they’re passing that stuff on now.”

I found A.H.’s story compelling, because what began as Simpson’s individual superstition was perpetuated by his success, and eventually A.H.’s success. As seen with the OJ Simpson metaphor, a young generation of football players dons the occupational superstitions of their predecessors as a rite of passage in the hopes to achieve similar success on the field. A.H. was well spoken, and seemed to enjoy revisiting memories of his time in the game. He was equally, if not more enthusiastic about the legacy he left behind as a coach.
Not only does A.H.’s story provide an occupational superstition, but also a new interpretation of a popular metaphor. Specifically, in English speech, ‘hunger’ serves as a metaphor for desire or motivation. In this particular superstition, the hunger metaphor is associated with the desire to win the game. For a popular example of the hunger used as a metaphor for motivation, see Suzanne Collins’ novel The Hunger Games.

The Beaver Call

In high school on the baseball team, we had this pregame ritual … and we did this thing and it changes from year to year, um, um, on what it’s called. But, usually it’s called the Beaver Call.

We get in a circle behind the dugout and we do this… well my senior year, we tried to change it to the rat call for this guy, “Rat”, and uh.. there are talks of my brother being in the middle next year and they’d call it the Budde Call (pronounced like booty call).

But basically you just jump up and down like idiots and do this chant.

It goes:

Beaver 1, Beaver All

Let’s all do the Beaver Call

(makes noise with mouth)

Beaver 2, Beaver 3

Let’s all climb the Beaver Tree

(mimes climbing a tree)

Beaver 4, Beaver 5

Let’s all do the Beaver Jive


Beaver  6, Beaver 7

Let’s all go to Beaver Heaven

(points up, dances more)

Beaver 8, Beaver 9

Stop! It’s  BEAVER TIME!

(freaks out, dances/jumps crazily)

Was the Beaver your school mascot?


Why did you do this?

Tradition. It was just like every year we did it- it’s a pregame warmup. And it hypes you up for the game.

How long has it been a part of your team?

No idea… well beyond my knowledge.

How do you learn it?

Just from older guys on the team before it. Just Varsity does it. So, sort of yeah, a rite of passage.



I asked my friend to tell me if he had any baseball rituals because I knew he played in high school. This was the only one he had, but he let me record him doing it while he got ready for a formal event, which I thought was very funny. It was supposed to be a one on one collection, but his roommate, a separate informant, was in the room and interjected that he had also done the Beaver Call except at his camp.


Sports rituals, especially ones that are only for the Varsity team or older players, also seem to be rites of passage. I wouldn’t be surprised if kids on the JV and freshman teams also know the Beaver Call but know not to do it until they are in that inner group and have the honor to dance about.

Also, it was interesting how perfectly he remembered it and told it without embarrassment.