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Why are athletes superstitious and is it actually helpful?

Does it help or hurt athletes to be superstitious?
Does it help or hurt athletes to be superstitious? 02:53

MINNEAPOLIS — Winners of 13 of their last 14 games as of Tuesday morning, the Minnesota Twins are clearly playing well. And that's only added to the legend of a lucky link that the team feels is the catalyst to their success.

So, why are athletes superstitious? And does that help a team or hurt them? Good Question.

Taking a few swings in the batting cage helps Twins catcher Ryan Jeffers get ready on game day.

So too does his faith in a frank adorning his shirt. It reads "Home Run Sausage" and features a sausage wearing a baseball uniform while swinging a bat.

"I believe in the sausage," said pitcher Kody Funderburk while smiling.

"We keep touching the sausage in the dugout," quipped third baseman Kyle Farmer.

A summer sausage, still wrapped in plastic, is apparently what's propelled the Twins to 12 straight victories. It's hard to believe that a wiener is what made them winners, but don't tell them that.

"I saw Carlos Santana's quote on the board… It said, 'If it works, we're going to do it.' I was like hmm, makes sense. (The sausage) is working, so we're gonna do it," said Farmer.

Red Sox Twins Baseball
The Minnesota Twins' home run sausage is pictured in the dugout during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox, Friday, May 3, 2024, in Minneapolis. Matt Krohn / AP

"I think we're just creatures of habit," said first baseman Alex Kirilloff when asked why athletes are superstituous.

"Because there's so many things we can't control," said bench coach Jayce Tingler.

"I think the big thing is just a mental game," added Funderburk.

Dr. Carly Anderson, the director of sports psychology at the University of Minnesota, said superstitions are powerful, specifically if you believe they actually work. 

"We tend to see athletes resorting to using superstitious behavior more often sort of as a coping mechanism to try to control for the uncertainty," she said. "What we know about superstitions is that it's most common in the highest level of sports."

That means professional athletes are more superstitious than kids playing the same sport. The higher the stakes, the more likely rituals and routines become paramount to a player's success, at least in their minds.

"I think there's a group of guys that have ate the same chicken sandwiches for the past like 14 days," said Tingler.

Earlier in the season, Funderburk was struggling on the mound. So, he switched things up. He started wearing his socks, sliders and mitt from the previous season. 

"I started pitching better, and in turn, I thought like this is why I'm pitching better. It's probably not. It's more just a mental thing," he said.

Superstitions can combat anxiety through a placebo effect, meaning someone thinks their "remedy" fixed their problem when in reality it was something more in their control. For Funderburk, he likely executed his pitches better after the gear swap, versus the gear actually making him better.

The flip side of superstitions is they can also add to someone's anxiety, especially when things go wrong or get thrown out of whack. 

"You don't want to get so irrationally rigid with superstitions that it becomes kind of jarring if you can't do the behavior," said Anderson.

Can there be a positive aspect to superstitions? Yes, according to Anderson. 

"Across the board, most athletes will say at all levels, particularly the highest level, that they perform best when they're having fun," she said.

Believing in a sausage has clearly created a fun atmosphere in the Twin clubhouse.

"Summer sausage is probably one of the weirder things I've heard a team rally around," said Funderburk.

It's definitely weird but not the "wurst" way to get the boys fired up. 

"(Anytime) you have something to keep things light in the dugout, just makes things a little bit more fun and engaging and interesting, I'm all for that," said Kirilloff.

Anderson said it can be helpful to purposely break up your routines or rituals on occasion. That way, when it happens outside of your control, you're mentally prepared.

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