PHOENIX – It begins with breakfast at 10 a.m., usually an omelet. There’s a nap between 1-2 p.m. Then there’s a pregame meal between 3:30 p.m. and 4.
Phoenix Rising FC defender Eddie Munjoma, like a lot of athletes, tends to have every detail of his game days carefully planned out.
“Game days for me are probably one of the few days, especially home games, that I try to be very specific with what I do,” Munjoma said. “I like to make sure I do everything on specific hours.”
It’s one of the things that make professional athletes fascinating. Irrational or not, almost every athlete has a pregame superstition or two or a meticulously structured routine.
“Professional athletes are weird, very weird, and they’re different,” said Rising coach Juan Guerra. “You have to make sure that they have their routines because they’re so uncomfortable during the week. I think we demand and challenge so much from them, that on game days, they just want to do their own thing. That’s why you have to respect their space.”
And sports psychologists say having a go-to routine can help athletes perform better. In the USL, superstitions and pregame routines are a major part of the game.
“Athletes repeatedly train their physical skills and the same is important for mental preparation,” said Dr. Jeffrey Simmons, a sports psychologist for Sun Devil Athletics. “Pregame routines can provide a sense of control, preparation, and comfort, as well as contribute to consistency and confidence.
“They help athletes achieve the mindset and arousal level necessary for peak performance. Routines also give a sense that one has ‘been there before’ and make automatic task-execution more likely, which usually increases the likelihood of a positive outcome.”
In the hours that separate meals and naps, Munjoma prioritizes ample relaxation and resting in bed, a choice fueled by having to play 90 minutes in Phoenix’s record-breaking heat.
“As far as the time that I am relaxing in my bed, I like to be watching either previous games of myself or live games that are on TV, because normally when we play on weekends, there’s obviously other games around the world going on,” Munjoma said.
To go along with his precisely mapped-out schedule, Munjoma has a favorite game-day menu, too.
“I like to have an omelet that consists of spinach, onion, turkey and bacon, with some avocado toast as well. That’s always going to be my breakfast,” Munjoma said. “As for my pregame meal, I like to eat pasta with asparagus and salmon. I mean, obviously there are healthier options, but that’s just something that I’ve grown to just enjoy eating for pregame meals and that’s something I want to continue to do.”
Superstitions are an enduring trait among soccer players, ingrained in the sport since its beginnings. Why? Because, like a structured routine, they put the athlete’s mind at ease.
“Intense and high-stake athletic competition can increase physiological arousal, stress, and tension that may negatively impact performance,” said Simmons. “Many athletes develop pregame routines – including superstitions – to control anxiety and other emotional experiences, which may reduce the likelihood of a positive outcome.
“Superstitions can provide a sense of control, even though they develop from a belief that an association exists between co-occurring, yet unrelated, events or circumstances.”
With age, players increasingly rely on rituals as an essential factor in staying well-prepared and poised for the game. John Stenburg, an experienced defender for the Rising, with a soccer career dating back to 2015, believes in creating a pregame routine.
“I’m a bit older, so I’ve been around and tried a couple of different things in the years,” he said. “I feel, for me, it’s important to do the same things every time because then it helps me to focus on the game and not what I’m doing.”
Replicating a game-day routine on the road can be difficult. Still, Munjoma mimics his home-game routine as closely as possible.
“On the road, it’s a little bit different because we don’t necessarily control what we’re eating,” Munjoma said. “You have to kind of just improvise and get as close as possible to what you normally would eat.
“The away day is also a little bit different because we have activation in between breakfast and my normal pregame meal. That’s normally something I wouldn’t do because I would just still be in my bed. But like I said, I still want to make it as similar as possible.”
Sometimes, though, an athlete’s routine is disrupted, and they’re forced to adjust.
“There will inevitably come a time when something out of an athlete’s control gets in the way of completing a pregame routine,” said Simmons. “Athletes should prepare and practice how they want to respond to a disrupted pregame routine, e.g., a modified pregame routine, reframed thoughts – perhaps from a threat to challenge perspective – and/or redirecting attention, so that psychological discomfort and self-doubt do not intensify.”
Oftentimes, athletes will experience discomfort or anxiousness when they cannot adhere to their pregame ritual precisely as planned.
“Believing that a ‘lucky charm’ or ritual is helpful can create a positive mindset and enhance self-efficacy, which is crucial for performance,” Simmons said. “This is akin to the placebo effect. Even if the superstition itself has no direct effect, the athlete’s belief in its power can actually influence their performance because these rituals are a form of preparation and control. Thus, if they cannot perform them, they feel a loss of control.”
While most athletes may entertain this notion, Munjoma is committed to maintaining his composure and focus, even when his pregame routine is disrupted.
“There is sometimes a part of me that thinks like, ‘Oh, if I don’t do this the same time I normally do, then maybe I’ll play differently,’” he said. “But I know in the big picture, that’s not necessarily the impact. Obviously, once you step on the field, you’re prepared.
“It doesn’t matter what you eat or do.”