December 3, 2012

Look Good, Play Good? - by Curt Tomasevicz


Does looking good actually help an athlete play better?  I’ve often wondered this. It’s impossible not to question if star baseball athletes like Bryce Harper really need all that eye-black under their eyes to help them see the ball better. Does Tim Thomas’s painted goalie mask of a fierce looking bear actually help him feel better and be able to stop more pucks for the Boston Bruins? How many wrist and arm bands does Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson really need to keep moisture from causing him to fumble? 

Some may argue that there is a placebo effect that gives a player some confidence but I doubt any scientific research would support such a theory.

Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals
Of course these examples of flair do nothing more than help a player think they look good or maybe intimidating. There probably is zero correlation between looking good and playing good (and there can be plenty of argument about the definition of “looking good”).

Although some alternate athlete appearances may be for comfort, I think many just fall under the category of superstition. In most sports superstition can go a long way. Some athletes wear the same underwear during a winning streak, hockey players refuse to shave as their team progresses through the playoffs, and some baseball players wear the same color of gloves for every at bat. I’ve never liked the cocky and arrogant athletes that were more concerned about their appearance than they were about winning. And I’m not saying Harper, Thomas, and Johnson don’t care about winning. But I always respected the plain-looking, hard workers more. Those that didn’t seem to care if they were the center of attention or not appeared to be the ones more focused on giving their best effort. No one wants to look ugly, but if you need to look in the mirror before you take the field, then I think you have to ask yourself where your athletic focus is.

My altered speed suit of short sleeves
before pushing a 2-man sled
In bobsled, there is very little that can an athlete can do to change their appearance on race day for show. Our faces and hair are covered by our helmets. Our speed suits don’t leave much room for alterations and we don’t have jersey numbers. And nearly everyone wears the same style of Adidas bobspikes. So how can I draw attention by my appearance? From an outsider looking in, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish one sledder from another. In fact, on my 4-man team, the biggest difference in appearance lies in the length of our sleeves. I pull my sleeves up to my elbows where my teammates may keep them at wrist length. 

Just like the blue-collar, hard-working farmers that work in dirt fields and dusty grain bins, bobsledders are only concerned about the minimum necessary apparel that will get the job done. Aerodynamics determine our attire. After all, jeans, a flannel shirt, and a ball cap certainly aren’t fancy. But they are considered just comfortable enough to get the job done and done the right way for the right reasons. 

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