because I said so

    Once again, I have to give credit to the women’s volleyball team for giving me inspiration for my column. Thank you, ladies.

    Heading into Friday night’s match against San Francisco State, I honestly had no clue what I wanted to write my column about. It’s not like this is anything unusual; I usually decide on a topic at the last minute. What set this week apart from any other was that there was simply nothing going on in the sports world.

    Then, like a sign from the gods, I saw the gorgeous women of the volleyball team dance on the sidelines of the game.

    Result: instant inspiration.

    At first, I have to admit that I found the constant cheers and dances that they were doing to be a bit hokey. I’ve always been an athlete who was very focused on the game. For myself, chatting with teammates on the bench was acceptable, but dancing and cheering after every play was reserved for the cheerleaders. However, the more that I thought about it, the more I realized that I’m just like them.

    In fact, many athletes behave in the same fashion, though maybe not as overtly as our beloved women’s volleyball team. Routines, rituals, cheers and superstitions are an integral a part of the sporting world. Take a look at the posterchild for youth sports, Little League baseball, and you will see a game filled with these things.

    Children wear the same socks for weeks on end, turn their hats inside out, and chant the word “”rally”” until they are blue in the face. The simple act of throwing the ball around the horn after a strikeout is another example.

    I remember catching for a pitcher that used to sleep in his cleats the night before he pitched. It was just his thing. There was a pitcher at my high school that used to write a girl’s initials in the back of the mound before each game. He said that it inspired him to pitch better. I told him he could do whatever he wanted, so long as he kept striking people out. I had a friend who had to listen to Korn before each football game because it pumped him up.

    I must admit that even I have my share of silly superstitions and rituals. When I used to play baseball, I would never let my left foot touch the batter’s box until my right one was firmly dug into place. I was even quirkier in basketball, when I had to take three dribbles, spin the ball and then take two more dribbles before every free throw that I took.

    The question seems to be: Why do we go through all of this? I can’t speak for anyone else, but these superstitions and rituals helped me to stay loose during games. I was always so focused and serious that I probably would have given myself a heart attack had I not had a suitable form of release.

    The cheers that all teams have for rallies, good plays and inspirational moments are also great ways to bring a team together. They’re just another reminder that you are all out there working for a common goal. The action of cheering as a team during a game shows solidarity and reminds you that you have support. Support is a huge thing for an athlete; it’s something you can lean on during the rough patches and feed off during the good times.

    Thus far, I have only mentioned amateur sports, but these traditions continue in the professional ranks as well. There have been many professional athletes with well-documented superstitions and rituals.

    Retired basketball player Jeff Hornacek used to wipe his cheek three times with his right hand before every free throw that he took. This started as a way to subtly acknowledge his three children during televised games. As time went on, he kept the routine, saying that it comforted him on the line. It must have worked: He retired as one of the greatest free throw shooters of all time.

    Ex-Major League Baseball pitcher Fernando Valenzuela had the famous glance to the sky during his windup that baffled pitching coaches. He said that it was a look to heaven. The late looks to the plate didn’t seem to bother him. Valenzuela was a phenomenal pitcher who was the ace of the Dodgers staff for many years.

    The point of this column is that these rituals are a normal part of sports that add a lot to the game. The cheers emanating from benches worldwide are not hokey cheers made to entertain fans during down moments in sports — the cheers are a way for a team to come together and show its support.

    To all the athletes out there, keep doin’ what you’re doin’, and don’t let some moron sports writer like me discourage you from your rituals because we think you’re being hokey. Don’t worry about what we think. We rarely know what we’re talking about anyway.

    Because I said so.

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