Technique: Get lucky!

There’s more to luck than charms and silly superstitions

Carlos Sastre celebrated his stage two win in the 2003 Tour de France by putting his lucky charm, his daughter's dummy, in his mouth

Carrying a rabbit’s foot in the back pocket of your jersey might seem like superstitious nonsense, but recent research suggests there may be evidence to support such seemingly irrational actions.


A study published in Psychological Science asked participants to take 10 putts on a golfing green. It was found that participants who believed they were using a ‘lucky’ ball were significantly more likely to hole their putt than those using a ‘neutral’ ball.

Researchers claim this works through a system of self efficacy; you believe the ball will help you perform better, therefore you have added confidence and do perform better.

Does this mean we should all get a lucky charm? No, says cyclist and clinical sports psychologist Dr Victor Thompson of He warns that relying on luck can be a dangerous game.

“To attribute a successful performance to luck and not to your skill and preparation means you ignore the aspect of your performance that you should repeat for future success,” says Thompson.

Similarly, attributing a poor performance to bad luck can be counterproductive. “It’s more helpful to question, ‘What could I have done differently?’” says sports performance coach Jeremy Lazarus of “That way we can learn and improve.”

Thompson adds that putting some of the onus on bad luck is understandable. “By doing this you won’t take it personally or beat yourself up over it.” But he warns: “Without reflecting and learning from failure, progress will be slower and less likely.”

“Even elements that seem to be out of our control should be handled and dealt with in a certain way,” says Lazarus. Attributing a puncture at an event, or dropping your chain à la Andy Schleck on stage 15 of this year’s Tour de France, to bad luck can put you in a negative mindset.

“Instead,” says Lazarus, “you need to rethink your planning attitude. While this might be an unfortunate occurrence, if you’ve mentally prepared and planned for any problems, then such incidents shouldn’t affect your concentration or attitude.”

But what if you can’t help yourself? “If you have to rely on something lucky, make sure it’s repeatable and controllable, such as the order you put on your cycling shoes,” says Lazarus. “Don’t rely on a favourite song or lucky jersey as your CD might break or your jersey might get lost. These are elements that you can’t control, and control is the way to success.”

If you train hard, eat right, check your bike and prepare for external factors (punctures, headwinds, falls) then you should have enough confidence in yourself without using a charm or a routine. “By leaving as little as possible to ‘fate’ you have the greatest chance of making your own luck,” says Lazarus.

Lucky tips

Clinical sports psychologist Dr Victor Thompson gives advice about performance, and making your own luck:

  • Try to be flexible in your pre-event warm-up and during competition routines, so that when elements can’t be repeated, this doesn’t bother you.
  • Prepare so that you’re confident in your own ability and are good at responding to change and uncertainty.
  • Sit back and let your opponents unravel when external events get in the way. Capitalise on these times.
  • Attribute good and bad performances to what you did or didn’t do, instead of blaming external factors or ‘luck’ – this way you’ll build performance over time.

Pro charms

Despite all the hard work and preparation they do, some pro cyclists still rely on lucky charms:

  • Former Rabobank team member Michael Boogerd allegedly carried a locket containing his first tooth, his girlfriend’s first tooth and a four-leaf clover, for luck.
  • Gerolsteiner’s Thomas Ziegler supposedly blames his loss during stage three of the 2005 Vuelta a Espana on losing his lucky charm, a ring, halfway through the ride.
  • Discovery Channel’s Chechu Rubiera rides with a tiny replica of the Virgin of Asturias dangling from his brake cable.
  • Saxobank’s Fabian Cancellara said an angel trinket from his wife gave him extra motivation to win April’s Tour of Flanders.