Nervous energy builds in an athlete just before game time. Coaches focus that energy and build team spirit through rituals.
The Cornell women’s basketball team pumps up their spirit at the eight-minute mark prior to the team going back onto the court to complete warm-ups. They watch an NBA commercial called “When Defense Happens!” while pounding on the tables and singing loudly with the music in the commercial.
Coach Brent Brase ’90 says the ritual, “keeps things fun, loose, and makes sure the inner fire is burning bright!”
For her first two years senior basketball player Macy Robinson thought the rituals were only for fun.
“As I have grown in the program, I also realized that the beat we make as a team represents the rhythm we have as a team on and off the court,” she says. “The absolute best part of my time as a student-athlete at Cornell is the family that I have had the opportunity to be a part of—the women’s basketball team. And that family can be most easily seen and felt in the moments in the locker room before each game.”
Music seems to play a key role across many sports teams. The men’s lacrosse team sings Becky G’s “Shower” after every win and has done so since the program’s very first win. The volleyball team sings the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” right before the start of a match.
But not all team rituals rely on pumping up the volume (and voices) of its players to ignite the Ram fire. Some rituals are pure acts of celebration, like when many of the Ram teams ring the victory bell at Van Metre Field after a win (see photo).
Before every Cornell softball game as they end their warm-ups, the infielders take grounders and the outfielders take pop flies. When infielders finish, they begin to form a line. Each player runs through the line and gives a fist-bump down the lineup. The team manager and the coach run down the line last.
The team forms a circle and each says a one-word team goal and individual goal for the game. After a pep talk from the team manager, the team cheers in unison, repeating six times, “Cornell Rams, what time is it? It’s time to get loud, time to represent!”
And with a breakout, “Aaaahhh Rams hoo!” a single player yells out “Hashtag,” and the rest clap twice and put their hands over their shoulders like ram horns, responding in unison, “Ram straight!”
Individual players have their own superstitious repetitive behaviors too, which vary from toe-tapping, running on and off the field or court the same way, wearing their hair the same way every time they play, and raking the dirt with their cleats like a bull about to charge.
Rituals don’t always make sense on the surface. During practices, at random moments, Coach Brase will drag the Box of Fortune onto the middle of the court, blowing his whistle and telling the team to hustle up to the middle of the court. He’ll pick one of the players to pull a popsicle stick out of a slit along the side of the box, and another player’s name will be attached to it. That team member will get to pull an item out of the box. The items are often Cornell gear, both new and vintage, and quite often the leftover articles left behind from games—an old pair of socks might just be the prize. When the players don’t want an item, they “accidentally” leave it behind at practice, and it gets placed back into the Box of Fortune.
First-year baseball player Adam Mitchell appreciates the camaraderie off the field as much as on the field. “The team sits together at every meal. I am able to just forget about all the things in life and have a great meal with the guys that mean a lot to me. They are always there to listen to what’s going on in my life and help me with my struggles.”
And that perhaps is the most important Ram ritual of all.