Does LeBron James’ powder toss boost his performance? Study shows pre-game rituals help athletes play better

VIENNA, Austria — In an athlete’s mind, their pre-game rituals are essential. LeBron James’ powder throw and Ray Lewis’ animated dance out of the tunnel at home games are two of the most well-known pre-game routines. Is it possible that these pre-performance routines (PPR) actually help an athlete play better?

Such a question hadn’t been answered by scientists — until now. Meta-analysis of data from various sports and skill levels shows the advantages of a pre-game ritual for both rookie and experienced athletes.

“Routines such as that of Jordan can strengthen concentration and help to dive into optimal mental state for performance,” says Peter Gröpel, senior author of the study and sport psychologist with the University of Vienna’s Department of Sport Science, in a statement. “It seems an advantage to use a PPR. We often use this type of intervention in the field.”

However, when it comes to training, how successful are pre-game rituals, and which athletes profit the most?

These issues were addressed by a team of researchers that pulled data from several similar studies assessing 800 athletes across 15 different sports. They were studied in experimental and real contests both with and without stress. Regardless of the athletes’ ages, genders, and ability levels, the kind of routine, and how long it took to master the routine, the players’ performance increased dramatically when they learned and implemented a PPR strategy. In addition, those that used a PPR fared better than those who didn’t.

“What we have seen is that using a PPR improves performance regardless of how simple or complex the routine is,” adds Gröpel. “It is of advantage in any sport task which allows a few seconds of preparation time, such as service in tennis or putt in golf.

Athletes of all levels, from beginner to expert, might gain from these routines to improve their game under pressure. Hopefully, these findings will inspire a new wave of pre-performance rituals among athletes, trainers, and sports psychologists everywhere!

This study is published in the International Review of Sports and Exercise Psychology.