Every great player or coach possesses the drive to train as hard as they can to become the best. Whether it’s lifting in the weight room, sprints in the gym, or practice on the field, these athletes and coaches prepare themselves for the challenges faced in sports. Though physical training is arguably the most effective part of preparation, many athletes and coaches have found it necessary to prepare themselves with rituals or routines. These rituals are commonly known as superstitions.
Superstitions are nearly commonplace in athletics. Baseball players avoid stepping on the foul line when entering or leaving the field, because it’s bad luck to touch the chalk. Former Boston Red Sox third baseman Wade Boggs would only eat chicken the day of games. In hockey, players put on their equipment in a specific order before every game. Wiping the soles of sneakers in basketball is considered good luck to many players. Even I had superstitions. Back during high school wrestling, I wore knee-high socks in attempt to get out of a slump. After winning the next match, I never wore low socks to another meet.
Lasell women’s soccer coach Vito LaFrancesca has his share of pre-game rituals. Before arriving to the field, Coach LaFrancesca must park in the central lot. Before the women’s squad takes the field for games, the warm-up music must start as the ladies walk down from the athletic center. As the team warms up, Coach LaFrancesca sits next to the scorers’ table on a chair labeled with a “V” on the back. Coach sits in his chair while holding a stress ball until the two-minute mark. With two minutes remaining, Coach LaFrancesca and Todd Montana, Lasell sports information director, do their special handshake. Montana then tells Coach “Good luck. Go get ‘em.”
After the starting lineups are announced, Coach LaFrancesca turns his hat backwards, something he’s been doing since coaching youth soccer. “When I was coaching little kids, they’d be all over the place,” says LaFrancesca “So I’d tell them ‘once my hat goes backwards, that means it’s game time. We got to get our game faces on.’ ”
What was once a tool for organizing kids has now become another ritual of the many that coach possesses. Now, Coach takes a knee before the team takes the field. As the squad surrounds him, junior forward Arianna DiOrio taps the top of his hat three times, a duty once held by former assistant coach Michelle Nuzzo. After giving his squad a final word before game time, Coach sits on the left side of the bench until the opening whistle is blown. Because it’s the playoffs, Coach LaFrancesca is wearing his special Under-Armour shirt, Nike polo, and sweatshirt to every game.
Those who don’t understand the rituals of athletes consider superstitions crazy, but it’s only crazy if it doesn’t work. With three straight Great Northeast Atlantic Conference titles, and the team’s first NCAA tournament win, the last thing Coach Vito LaFrancesca will ever be called is crazy.