Good habits can be the secret to success.
And in elite sport where “1 per centers” make all the difference, athletes will try anything to stay focused (and sane) during competition.
Several stars of the Tokyo Olympic Games surprised us with quirks and unexpected pre-match pastimes.
What do they mean and why do they do them? Curiosity got the better of us, and we had to find out if it works.
What was Nicola McDermott writing in her notebook?
Anyone who watched the women’s high jump final would have seen Australia’s silver medallist Nicola McDermott meticulously scribing in her diary between attempts.
It obviously paid off — not only did she hit a personal best jump of 2.02 metres but in doing so, McDermott also broke the national record and became just the second Australian woman in history to claim a medal in the event.
In a press conference after the medal ceremony, McDermott explained her process in detail.
“My sports psychologist and I came up with a system that allowed me to focus on each jump, which was to write down in numbers every compartment of my jump out of 10,” she explained.
“I did this because I found that in a stadium, I couldn’t hear what my coach was saying and I had to learn how to coach myself, in a way, and then just use him as feedback and we’ve developed it over the past two years.
“It keeps the emotion out of it.”
Nailing it in the ring
You may have noticed boxer Harry Garside’s painted fingernails when he claimed Australia’s first medal in the ring in 33 years — a bronze.
He said the manicure was more of a social experiment than a superstition.
“I’m just trying to show to young people that you can be whatever you want to be and whatever feels natural to you,” he told the ABC.
ButGarside does have his own routine before each boxing bout.
“I just like to feel neat and tidy, setting the intention that I will box neat and tidy that day,” he said.
That means everything from “new socks, new jocks” and cleaning his room before a match.
Garside also attempted a new challenge or hobby once a month in the lead up to Tokyo — including ballet, public speaking, even remaining silent for 48 hours.
“The biggest thing I learnt from it was to be prepared for such a big moment, to just get comfortable being uncomfortable,” he added.
Knitting to stay sane on the sidelines
Commentators spotted British diver Tom Daley knitting poolside while watching his female compatriots.
Turns out that when he was not competing for a medal at his fourth Olympic Games in Tokyo, Daley often had a pair of knitting needles in hand, showing off his creations on an Instagram page solely devoted to his hobby.
He even knitted a small pouch for his gold medal in the men’s synchro 10-metre platform.
“I made a little cosy for my medal to stop it getting scratched,” he laughed.
“I’ve got the Union Jack on one side and the Japanese flag on the other.”
Critics, including British broadcaster Piers Morgan, suggested on Twitter that Daley was bored in Tokyo.
Experts said it was likely to be quite the opposite.
Does it help?
Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) performance psychologist Jonah Oliver said if athletes find a task that clears the mind and allows them to focus on the right thing at the right time, it can be helpful during competition.
“I don’t care if it’s tap dancing, knitting, juggling… It really doesn’t matter what form it is, as long as it’s not derailing or hijacking your ability to execute the task when it matters,” he said.
Mr Oliver travelled with the Australian team to Tokyo and said it was important to stamp out superstitions among athletes, especially when it was believed the pattern of behaviour controlled the performance and the outcome.
That said, routines or rhythms are encouraged — things like having a system in preparation for each event or race day.
Mr Oliver refers back to McDermott’s journaling as a great example.
“It’s something that allows the athlete to evaluate the previous performance, to get something meaningful out of it, reset into the present, and then think about what they could be doing in the upcoming event,” he said.
Playing out the tournament with only one earring
Beach volleyball silver medallist Mariafe Artacho Del Solar lost an earring in her opening match against Cuba.
Many thought she played the rest of the tournament without it, for sentimental reasons.
“Earrings are like my undies,” she laughed, “I can’t leave home without them.”
Artacho Del Solar had been given the silver pearl earrings by her father in 2016.
Her only regret is that she did not lose a gold pair as the outcome in the gold medal match might have been different.
That said, she insists her team is not really one for rituals or lucky charms.
“When we wear a visor and we keep winning, we don’t really want to change visors,” she said.
“[But] we’re not really a team of superstitions.”