Posts Tagged ‘winning’

“If you make every game a life-and-death thing, you’re going to have problems. You’ll be dead a lot.” ~Dean Smith

The other day, I sat in class discussing the importance of victory in a sports match. The group was composed of a variety of athletes and fans and we all had different answers to one question. At what cost does a victory come? Although answers varied, we all agreed that what starts out as a game when we were children quickly becomes more as we get older. Though still young in college, suddenly sports has become about making money. The game, at times, becomes a life or death matter.

Putting so much stock into, what should just be a game may seem silly to people who are not sports fans; on the contrary, the outcome of the game is incredibly important to the morale of a team’s fans. Psychologists have long been fascinated by figuring out why fans act and feel the way they do at athletic events. But let’s step back in time for a moment.

Humans are tribal creatures and thus, our desire to be connected to a group is embedded into our DNA. Back in the day, tribes rallied around warriors and war games. In fact, games and early sports (like jousting and polo) were often played in order to rally villagers around their nobility or for marriage ties to be decided between two noble families. So you see, sports have always acted as some kind of glue for communities.

These days, fans gather in the thousands to watch a single game and to rally around a particular team. And all kinds of things can happen at these meetings. Inter-fan violence occurs in the forms of brawls and riots and fans collectively lose their voices cheering loudly for their team, amongst other things. As fellow sports followers, I’m sure we can all attest to watching some strange display of fan-dom during a game.

Psychologists have been studying the phenomenon of fan-dom and have discovered that ties to a certain team run deep. To all of you who have ever said, “But it’s just a game” when your friend comes home dejected following a loss, I’m here to tell you that fans actually experience physiological and hormonal changes along with their teams.

A study in Georgia found that male testosterone levels actually rise up to 20% following a win, while testosterone levels plummet by rates of up to 27% following a loss. We’ve also already discussed the “us vs. them” ideology- which explains why fans identify with their team after a win (“We won”) and draw away after a loss (“They lost”).

Charles Hillman, a psychologist at the University of Illinois, even discovered that highly zealous fans’ arousal rates rise. These arousal rates are similar to those attributed to seeing erotic photos or seeing images of animal attacks. Edward Hirt, from Indiana University adds to this finding. He discovered that both male and female fans were more optimistic about their sex appeal after a victory.

However, perhaps the most appealing part about sports fan-dom is the escapism factor. Watching a really good game (especially one in which your team is winning) seems to be akin to getting lost in an exciting movie or compelling book. For a few hours, fans can escape the drudgery of their own lives. They also find a sense of belonging amongst the thousands of fellow fans. In fact, according to a study done by the University of Kansas, ardent sports fans actually have lower levels of depression and alienation than do non-sports fans.

A lot more is surely to be found in this niche field of fan psychology, and after all, this was only a basic primer. However, I know I will be thinking about this research when I go sit amongst my fellow fans when the Ducks play Stanford today. It’s just college and it’s just a game, but maybe it really isn’t that simple.