Pre-game Rituals: What They Are and Why We Need Them

Credit: Flickr/majorvols

pregame ritualBy nature, humans are pretty superstitious and we do all sorts of things to bring us good luck (rub a rabbit’s foot, pick a four-leaf clover, pull wishbones apart, hang horseshoes with the open end up) or prevent bad luck (try not to break a mirror, don’t open an umbrella indoors, throw salt over your left shoulder, skip the 13th floor in tall buildings, and on and on). Nearly every group of people has its own luck-related superstitions (many Catholics cross themselves, many Jews don’t name their children after living relatives, actors say “break a leg” instead of “good luck” and refer Shakespeare’s Macbeth as “The Scottish Play,” musicians have theirs, construction workers have theirs, and so on.)

One of the most superstitious groups is athletes. Lebron James used to toss chalk; Baseball Hall of Famer Wade Boggs wrote the Hebrew word for “life” in the dirt every time he came up to the plate and ate chicken (presumably kosher) before every game; former pro football player Ray Lewis did his squirrel dace for the fans; French soccer player Lauren Blanc used to kiss the top of his goalie’s bald head. There are team rituals too: some have a team meal the day before each game, some kneel in prayer before games, some slap the top of the dugout before running on to the field, and others just have a rousing “get-out-there-and-win-win-win!” cheer.

We often hear that sports involves much more than physical performance. Many experts agree that the mental part of any game is just as important. (Baseball philosopher Yogi Berra did the math a little differently when he said that “Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.”)

Credit: Flickr/majorvols

Credit: Flickr/majorvols

Just as pre-game stretching and warm ups prepare the body, the kind of pre-game rituals I’ve described here prepare the mind. They’re designed to build the individual’s or the team’s confidence, reduce anxiety, make players feel that they control the outcome, and help them stay focused. Do they work? (Would Wade Boggs be in the Hall of Fame if he were a vegetarian? Would he have played even better if he’d eaten carrots instead?). It’s impossible to say for sure, but I’m fairly certain that the answer is Yes, they do. If the coach’s or a teammate’s pep talk revs up the players and makes the team feel like an unstoppable force, they’re going to play harder and support each other more than if they just showed up 10 minutes before the game. And if you’re nervous before games and meditating, painting your toenails, or wearing a pair of socks you haven’t washed all season calms you, you’re going to play better. How could you not? As long as they’re positive, supportive, and healthy, pregame rituals are must-haves for any team or individual.

This summer, I’ve been partnering with Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes on their “Show Your Stripes” campaign, which is all about encouraging dads and kids to play sports with a sense of passion, sportsmanship, and team spirit. You can view an amazing video highlighting these themes on Frosted Flakes’ YouTube page, featuring the famous speech given last year by Coach David Belisle at the Little League World Series after his team lost:


A lot of that passion, sportsmanship, and team spirit starts before the game, with a ritual of some kind. Kellogg’s has a fun video about pre-game rituals here:

Did you or your teammates have any rituals when you were young? Does your child’s team have one? If so, we’d love to hear about it! Tweet it using #showyourstripes and help other dads and kids show theirs.

My Progressive Drive Safe Today Day Pledge

hospital ER sign - publicdomainpictures-net

stop sign - from photos-public-domain-comI’ll admit it: Before I had kids, I drove like a maniac. Yellow lights meant “floor it” and red lights and stop signs were often optional. I spent my junior year of college living in France and got a job with a cousin of mine driving all over Paris making deliveries. One of his favorite lines was that he’d never get into a car with me without a second pair of underwear.

Not surprisingly, I was pulled over plenty of times and did get into a few accidents, although, amazingly, only one of them was my fault (I was driving down San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley on a gorgeous, sunny day, got distracted by an equally gorgeous girl in an outrageously short skirt, and rear-ended the guy in front of me. I tried to blame the accident on her, but the cop just rolled his eyes). Miraculously, I never killed or injured anyone.

speedometer - photos-public-domain-comBut I still remember where I was when the realization hit me (better a realization than another vehicle) that I had to make some changes. My first child was due in a few weeks and I had responsibilities—people needed me to be alive.

zoe at ERIn the years since that little epiphany, I haven’t had a ticket and have been involved in only one accident: Some jerk (maybe a young me) ran a red light and t-boned me, then drove off. My car was totaled and my youngest daughter and I were carted off in an ambulance. In yet another minor miracle, with the exception of my back still being in near constant pain, both of us have fully recovered. Chalk up another victory for seatbelts and sheer luck.

progressive drive safe logoBecause two of my three kids are driving and the third is just a few short years away from getting behind the wheel of a car, I’m taking a pledge to be a better driver. I know that’s a phrase that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. But for me, it simply means paying more attention to safety and the basic things I can do to make our roads safer for my kids and yours. So no texting or checking email or using GPS or making phone calls—even if I’m just sitting at a red light. No fishing around on the floor for something I dropped. That’s a lot of Nos.

On the Yes side, I pledge to cut other drivers some slack. The woman who cut in front of me so rudely? The kid who nearly sideswiped me? The old guy who was going 45 in the fast lane? Instead of flipping them off or leaning on the horn, I’ll take a few deep breaths and, like Queen Elsa in Frozen, I’ll just let it go. I can’t control how other people drive, only how I react to it. And sitting behind the wheel of a 2,000+ pound weapon, the potential to do instant, permanent damage is huge.

hospital ER sign - publicdomainpictures-net

I invite you to join Progressive and me on September 3rd, 2015, for Drive Safe Today Day. Take the pledge to make the roads safer. Learn more about the initiative by liking Progressive on Facebook and following @Progressive on Twitter. Stay alert, focused and calm while you’re on the road—and help as many people as you can do the same. To paraphrase Smokey Bear (who said, “Only you can prevent forest fires”), only you can make our roads safe. The life you save could be your own—or your child’s.


This post was written in partnership with Progressive Insurance. I have been compensated, but the thoughts and ideas are my own. For additional driving safety tips, check out Progressive’s Drive Safe Today Day program.



Transitioning to Middle School: From Big Fish to Small

back to school

back to school


Dear Mr. Dad: My son is starting middle school next week. His previous school was K-5 so this is a new one for him. He’s nervous and, honestly so am I. He’s a smart kid but has always had trouble finishing assignments and turning work in on time. I’m worried that if he does the same in middle school, he’ll be setting himself up for even more trouble in high school and beyond. What can I do to help him (and myself) get ready for this big transition?

The transition from elementary- to middle school is kind of like the transition from half-day preschool or kindergarten to full-day first grade: it’s going to be a huge change in your son’s—and your—life. Until now, he’s probably spent each school year in a single classroom with a single teacher and the schedule was largely the same every day. But now, that comfort and security is being replaced by different teachers in different classrooms—each with different rules, binders, homework policies, and learning environments. Middle school is also a lot more tech-heavy than elementary school. My daughter’s school, for example, has the kids use Google docs, which are accessible from anywhere, for all assignments. The old “the-dog-ate-my-homework” or “Oops-I-left-it­-at-home” excuses won’t fly anymore.
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#FallBackToSchool Twitter Party, Thursday, August 27, 7-8pm EST — Great Convo and Great Prizes

A - first day of school pancake

I’m partnering with @FollettNews, @SimplyBeingMom, and @RosalindWiseman for a great back-to-school Twitter party.
Fall-Back-to-School-Twitter-PartyWe’ll be discussing tips for a seamless back-to-school transition and sharing experiences with fellow parents–plus giving away some really great prizes!

  • Prize 1: $50 Visa gift card
  • Prize 2: $50 Visa gift card
  • Prize 3: $100 Visa gift card
  • Prize 4: $100 Visa gift card
  • Grand Prize: 1 iPad and 1 $200 Visa gift card

Hopefully, you had a fantastic summer. But any day now, your kids will be heading back to school. Whether it’s a child’s first day of preschool, middle school, high school, or college, it can be a challenging time for everyone. Fortunately, the folks at Follett have got tons of great resources to guide you and your kids every step of the way.

A - first day of school pancakeIn my family, we’ve always had special first-day-of-school rituals. When my sisters and I were young, my parents always served us a breakfast that was heavy on the honey. The idea was that we should always remember that learning is sweet. When I had my own kids, I was planning to carry on the tradition, but my oldest didn’t like honey, so I came up with a new tradition: A-B-C pancakes covered in maple syrup (the learning-is-sweet message remains the same). None of us can imagine a first day of school without those cherished alphabet pancakes.

Three for Two and One for One

Game nights are a great way for family and friends to send time together. But for single- parent, single-child families (or even a one-on one date night), finding fun games for two players can be a challenge. Single-player games are even harder. This week we take a look at a number of games that fit into both of those categories.

code master think funCode Master (Think Fun)

This single-player game is actually a series of increasingly complex puzzles that encourage the player to use coding and programming concepts to advance. The idea is simple: Write a program using game tokens that will get your avatar from point A to B (go forward from space 1 to space 2, follow the blue path to space 3, go back to 1, now take the red path to 4, and so on), picking up valuable crystals along the way. There’s only one solution for each level. You’ll whip through the early ones pretty easily, but by the time you get into the teens and 20s (there are a total of 60), you’ll be sweating buckets as you flex your critical thinking, logical, and planning muscles. $24.99. One player, age 8 and up. Available exclusidely at Target.

puzzlets digital dream labsPuzzlets (Digital Dream Labs)

Like Code Master, Puzzlets has players think like a programmer, using problem-solving, logic, sequencing, and other skills to advance through a series of increasingly difficult game levels. Research has found that when kids (and, presumably, adults) use their hands and mind together, they retain new information longer. It all starts with the free app (for Android and iOS only). Fire it up and on screen you’ll see an avatar and an object that avatar needs to collect. Then, players arrange physical game tiles (forward, backward, jump, and so on) in the Play Tray in a way that will accomplish that goal. The Tray relays those commands to the app. If your program works, you’re on to the next stage. If not, go back to the Tray and reprogram. Feeling collaborative? Puzzlets is a great one-on-one parent-child activity. Or, you could play it by yourself. Comes with everything you need to play—except a laptop or tablet. Will be available in September, 2015 for $99.99. But you can preorder now for $69.99.

nefarious from usaopolyNefarious (USAOpoly)

Designed by Donald X. Vacarino, creator of the popular Dominion and Kingdom Builder games, Nefarious pits you and other evil geniuses against each other to see who can bring the world to its knees first. All you have to do is build the most dastardly device, amass the biggest fortune, hire the most minions, and do the most sabotage and espionage. Special Twist cards turn the rules on their head so you’ll never play the same game twice. For 2-6 players, age 13 and up. Will be hitting store shelves soon.

peanuts surprise slides from wonder forgePeanuts Surprise Slides Game (Wonder Forge)

This game is similar to Candy Land in a number of ways. It’s colorful, easy for preschoolers to learn, and fun enough for adults to want to play with their children more than once. But one of the biggest differences (besides more recognizable, child-friendly characters on the board) is that players move through the game using a spinner instead of cards—and we all remember how card get bent, torn, filthy, and lost. Players are on a race through the seasons. Like Candy Land, there are tons of shortcuts; some move you ahead, others backwards. Unlike Candy Land, pieces of the game board can be rearranged and flipped over, creating new shortcuts and getting rid of old ones. Ages 3 and up. Under $10 at retailers everywhere.