Tag Archives: tennis

High School Tennis Traditions

Informant Information — SD

  • Nationality: American
  • Age: 16
  • Occupation: Student
  • Residence: San Pedro, California
  • Date of Performance/Collection: April 3, 2022
  • Primary Language: English

The informant is currently a junior in high school. In an in-person interview, I asked her about any school traditions that she had participated in before.


Does your high school have any traditions that you’ve participated in before?


Yeah, I’ve been on the tennis team every year of high school so I’ve done stuff for their traditions. One is that we all wear one yellow sock and one black sock for our important games. A couple girls refuse to even wash the socks that she wears, but I think that’s gross so I don’t do that part. 


Is there any significance to the colors and which color goes on which foot?


It doesn’t matter which color goes on which foot. We do yellow and black because our school colors are gold and black. My school doesn’t include socks with our uniforms so we just do yellow because it’s easier to find than gold. 


Do you know how long the tennis team has been doing this?


No, but it must have been started a really long time ago because our uniforms aren’t even black and gold anymore. They changed the colors to white and yellow a couple years before I joined the team. 


Wearing coordinated mismatching socks is a fun way to demonstrate membership in this high school folk group– the tennis team. This ritual is supposed to bring good luck to the team, an example of superstitions being popular when there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding an event. I can think of lots of examples of sports teams using lucky colors and accessories before important games. It’s also interesting that the traditional sock colors have outlived the matching uniforms. In this case, it seems like the colors are just as important as the practice of wearing two mismatched socks.

Tennis Serves

Context & Background:

Informant: High school friend and tennis partner. Collected via telephone. This conversation highlights one of the common beliefs in the game of tennis. As high school tennis players, this belief wasn’t taught like the rules of the game, but rather picked up on by practice and seeing senior players play. RK – informant, SD – collector

Performance: (via phone call)

RK: One thing I remember from tennis is the time I took too long to serve the ball. I couldn’t get the toss right for the serve, so I tried like five or more times to toss the ball. Take in mind that I was a beginner, an absolute freshman, so I didn’t know the unspoken rules. But yea, basically, you’re not supposed to take more than 2 or 3 tosses to serve. I found out when some guy who was watching yelled at me, “you don’t have all day!” (laughs)

SD: Oh my god, I’ve had the same thing happen to me, and you’re right, you aren’t really aware of this until you actually start playing. 

RK: To be fair, I still do that to mess with people sometimes. Just kidding! (laughs again). 


When I first started playing tennis, I felt exactly like RK. I too didn’t know about the toss limit for serving, although it is very common knowledge in the sport. There are unspoken rules in many games and it is a type of folklore to know them, spread it to younger players, and keep the knowledge going. Another unspoken rule might be that, at least in girls tennis in the high school level, before the conference or match, the team captain would pat on the butt for good luck and a sort of ‘you got this’ moment. Sports folklore is there, it’s just hard to know if you aren’t part of the sports community, just like all other folklore. 

Main Piece: Tennis Court Lines

Background: The informant grew up playing tennis every single day after school. She and her family members were professional players, and there was an expectation that everyone becomes an expert at the game through endless hours of training and tournaments. She played tennis in college and once she graduated, she coached players on the tour. She is very well respected in the tennis world. The rituals she performed as she was playing competitively never faltered. One of which was the belief that she could never step on the lines of the tennis course. This is a custom that is practiced by many players today because stepping on the lines is a sign of disrespect and bad luck. Player’s go out of their way to ensure that they never touch the white tape in between points.

Context: “As a tennis player, all of my life, I never stepped on the lines of a tennis court. If you watch tennis on TV today, I am in the majority. It was always something- it was something superstitious for many tennis players. It started with John McEnroe and I know that Roger Federer also does not step on the lines. Certainly, Rafael Nadal- I mean would pull a hamstring to step over the alley so he didn’t have to step on the lines… he’s psycho. Do you know what it was…it was more that it made the moments when you weren’t in the point and when you weren’t in the mindset of competition-it made when you didn’t have a lot of control in the point more bearable because the time in between points seemed like they were controllable, right.”

Thoughts: I think that this folk ritual and superstition signals that you respect the game and know the sport intimately enough to practice this custom. Moreover, as the informant explained, became a strategic, calming tactic as well. Having the power to deliberately step over the line and make a decision on the outcome of your movements gives the player a sense of control and is grounding when in such a high-intensity state. The folk tradition has many beneficial implications and has become more popular as more and more players step over the lines. It is interesting to watch how careful some players are never to touch the white lines, and now that I understand this ritual, it is so obvious when watching a game. 

Team Cheer

Subject: A traditional cheer preceding my high school tennis team matches.


Collection: On the Dana Hills High School’s tennis team, we had a tradition before every tennis match to say the same cheer to boost our team’s confidence and to also psyche out our opposing team. In the traditional cheer, we first began by creating a small tipi on the court with all of our rackets so they’re standing balanced and bringing us all together. Our team captains lead us through the letters of our school’s mascot: dolphins. They shout “D-D-DOL” followed by the rest of the team’s recitation. Then, the team captains shout “P-P-PHIN”. We move through the spelling of DOLPHINS two more times and end with a loud “Go Dolphins!” and each reach for our own rackets and bring them once more together, held high in the air.


Background Info: C. Stuart is a freshman at the University of Southern California and is majoring in Screenwriting. She has played tennis all her life and was a part of Dana Hills High School tennis team all four years of school.


Context: A written transcript shared via email after assigned to share a piece of folk practice, belief, or informally passed down tradition with a classmate.


Analysis: Cheers, especially those performed by those participating in the sporting event, act as expressions of identity and allow for a sense of unity within a team. In this case, the assertion of one’s own identity depends on the existence of the “other” or the other team that clearly does not know the ritual or cheer. The fact that people in physical proximity are alienated then allow for an increased sense of belonging and essential exclusivity. This sense of belonging when combined with the creation of the “other” would be comforting in the face of an unsure outcome, such as an impending sporting match. Asserting one’s team identity also helps alleviate the pressure off one individual; if one person makes a mistake, the team makes the fall with them with the potential, depending on the sport, of another person picking up the slack or recovering the mistake. Therefore, a cheer is both a way of asserting a sense of belonging and soothing anxieties when facing an unsure result.

Superstion – Irvine, California

“During tennis matches, don’t drink red Gatorade.  Also, during breaks, only drink one sip of Gatorade and one sip of water each time, if at all.”

As a tennis player with two years of highly competitive Varsity high school tennis under her belt, Charlyne said that she developed these superstitions after personal experiences in a plethora of doubles matches.  She explains that early into her high school tennis career, she began to form these beliefs when she and her partner drank nothing but red Gatorade sports drinks during matches and consequently played horribly each time.  So horribly, in fact, that she even attributes what she considers the worst match of her entire life to the consuming of red Gatorade.  Charlyne even went on to say that red Gatorade was initially an aversion to her because of its bright color and prominence whenever it would accidentally spill onto the team’s light-colored uniforms.

In this way, Charlyne demonstrates several practical reasons for not drinking red Gatorade and for only drinking one sip each of water and Gatorade during matches.  She reasoned that the sip of water would wash down the Gatorade’s aftertaste and not leave her mouth sugarcoated and parched as she continued to play.  However, her belief that only one sip of each beverage should be allowed is unique to her, but again it derives from personal experience.  Charlyne relates that during one match, both she and her doubles partner drank two large gulps of the drinks during their break and afterward would consistently feel cramps and never play to the best of their abilities.

It is interesting that Charlyne’s personal superstitions are not simply superstitions passed down from family members or picked up from friends, but were formed of her own accord.  Personal experiences and bouts of bad luck led to her creation of these rules, proving that the formulation of superstitions and folk beliefs can be entirely dependent on the individual and his or her own identity, without the influence of society and already widely-held beliefs.