Ritual? Superstition? Routine? Whatever the name, WNBA players use it

July 18, 2013 - 9:15am
Maya Moore of the Minnesota Lynx is one of many WNBA players who have elaborate pregame rituals. (Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Lynx)

Maya Moore of the Minnesota Lynx is one of many WNBA players who have elaborate pregame rituals. (Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Lynx)

To the average fan, a team's pregame warmup might look like somewhat aimless stretching and shooting -- but to the athletes, there's nothing random about it.

Is it routine, ritual, superstition, or a combination? Opinions vary, but regardless of what you call it, and whether it involves music, sleeping, special foods or something else, WNBA players are no different than other athletes when it comes to their accustomed pregame patterns.

One of the most routine-steeped teams in the WNBA may be the Minnesota Lynx. Their pregame shootaround and group stretching session involves an elaborate series of both personal and team activities, which players don't discuss.

"I can't even name all the things that we do," said forward Maya Moore. "It's pretty comical too - we have fun with it." 

Moore, who insists that she's "doing her own thing" and not watching others during pregame, has one of the more unique routines: After stretching, she spins around on her rear end and then jumps up, and connects with the team trainer. She said the tradition dates back to her college days.

"It's the spin right after stretching, and the pop up. That came from Connecticut," Moore said. "I've been doing that for seven years now -- some things carry over from team to team."

Moore said the spin involves pushing off the floor, and she always tries to go around as many times as she can. "The record is three times," Moore said. "It has to be a really clean floor so I can get into my swing and stay balanced. I go counterclockwise -- it's always been counter. The trainer just pulls me up."

But Moore said the routine is just that: a routine, and not a superstition.

"I like routine, I like preparation and keeping things the same so you can help find a flow," she said. "Having a flow is a big part of team sports, and making sure that everybody's in the same stride, and sometimes doing those things together encourages team flow."

Moore said she's not a superstitious person. "The superstitious part is thinking that has an effect on my jumper going in," Moore said. "I always believe in jumpers going in, whether the bus broke down or I'm just walking in -- the jumper's going in. You still have to be able to roll with the punches, even if you can't get everything in."

"It's not like if I don't do my butt spin I'm not going to hit my jumper."

Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve is fine with routines. "It's routine," she said. "Don't call it superstition -- it's routine. Athletes are very routine-oriented. I guarantee you every single (WNBA) player has a routine."

Tulsa Shock forward Tiffany Jackson-Jones may be on the other end of the spectrum. She admits that her pregame requirement to eat at the Chipotle restaurant chain is more of a superstition than a routine. She makes sure she gets her Chipotle food whether at home or on the road -- and sometimes she has to go to great lengths to get it.

"I know where the Chipotles are in every city we travel to," Jackson-Jones said. "When Sacramento had a team I took a cab, for $40, to Chipotle to get my $7 bowl. If I have to do that, I will. It's about the same price as room service."

Unlike Moore, not getting her pregame requirement can weigh on her. "If I didn't get (Chipotle), if I make my first shot I'm OK," Jackson-Jones said. "If I don't make it, I would think it was because I didn't get sour cream in my Chipotle bowl."

Sparks forward Ebony Hoffman calls it ritual, and said there is a difference between individual versions and the team kind. "Everybody has their own little ritual. Nobody does the same thing," Hoffman said. "Whatever we do team-wise, it's because it's something the coaches make us do. It's their ritual."

"Alana (Beard) has to get in the cold tub or the hot tub before she comes out, some people need to take naps. I'm a nap-taker -- I like to get two hours in."

Hoffman said whatever the activity, the purpose for every athlete is the same: to get mentally prepared to play.

"Most of the things are just trying to keep your mind calm, not getting too far outside the box -- for me anyway," she said. "I just try to keep my mind at peace. If I start listening to too much rap and stuff, I might get a technical."

Veteran Sky forward Swin Cash said there is a definite flow to her pregame preparations. It begins with a nap, after which she calls and talks to her mother. While showering, getting dressed and packing, Cash will first listen to gospel or inspirational music, and then move to the latest R&B hits. "It makes me think I'm a singer," she said with a laugh.

By the time Cash gets to the arena, she's listening to what she calls upbeat hip hop. She said it's about "getting her focus where it needs to be."

Cash explained the differences between routines, rituals and superstitions. "A routine is something that you try to be consistent with so that it's normal for you, and you're used to it," she said. "It's done in your comfort zone. A ritual is something that, if it doesn't happen, it throws off your whole day. Superstitions are like pins and needles -- they're more private."

Cash said there are a few things that, if not done before a game, make her feel "all out of sorts. Routines and superstitions come along the way during a playing career," she said.

Reeve pointed out that anything can be a routine. "When I go on the road I like to eat out and not eat at chains. So I don't go to the same place every time," she said. "(Former Lynx forward) Taj (McWilliams-Franklin) used to say she'd purposefully not be in a routine -- she'd do something different every time. So we told her, that's a routine in itself."

But routines, rituals and superstitions can also venture into the bizzare. Reeve recalls a longtime college coach as the most unusual case she's ever seen.

"She used to squat down during free throws and she'd knock on her head, knock on the floor, knock on her head, knock on the floor. That's extreme," Reeve said. "I told (forward) Rebekkah Brunson, 'If I ever start doing this, I've got to get out of coaching'."

Routines are usually a mixture of old and new traditions. "Every season takes on a life of its own, and that's true with us," Moore said. "We've got some things we do from last year in our shoot-arounds, and some things that are new that just kind of happened, and you go with them."

One thing is for sure, however, and that is that routines go at their own pace. "Our flow stuff doesn't really have a time," Moore said. "As long as you feel prepared for the game."