La influencia del público en el rendimiento deportivo


The influence of the public on sports performance

Due to the covid we have been forced to modify many things in our daily lives, both personally and at work and, of course, sports. All this has forced us to change many of our routines and habits, which has had a great impact on our mental stability and therefore has influenced our performance and well-being.

Within the sports field, one of the major changes as a result of the Coronavirus has been the elimination of the public in competitions and matches. After more than a year, we are not shocked nor do we find it so strange to see empty stadiums, pitches and stands, to see athletes compete without the ambient noise that characterizes, for example, soccer matches. Without an audience, matches and competitions become silent, and athletes no longer hear the cheers of the fans or the boos of the rival fans. So, What has it meant for the sport to compete in empty stadiums and stands? Is it better to compete with or without an audience?

La influencia del público en el rendimiento deportivo

The main thing is to know that the presence or absence of spectators implies a series of psychological changes not only in athletes, but also in all the professionals who surround them and of course the referee (in those sports where there is). The changes are produced both by the lack of pressure and anxiety and by the lack of support. Specifically, the referee is a figure who generally only receives boos from the spectators, so the lack of these is an incentive for his performance.

Depending on whether the presence of spectators has a positive effect and is an incentive for our performance or harms it, we can talk about social facilitation or social inhibition, respectively.

The main change to which they have been exposed has been the lack of two-way communication that occurs between the fans and the athlete, coaches and referees. This communication is characterized by being a stimulus that conditions the environment and generates the "pressure" typical of a competition.

Let's stop for a moment to reflect on the great differences between training and competition. One of the most striking is the presence of noise coming from both the rival fans and ours. If we eliminate this stimulus, one of the consequences is the reduction of the mentality, concentration and feeling of competition, which is why the psychological aspects acquire great importance.

La influencia del publico en el rendimiento deportivo

Positive self-motivation and self-reinforcement become essential to acquire the state of concentration and mental preparation required in a competition. The management of these psychological factors by athletes has been a real challenge and an addition to their usual physical and mental training.

However, as previously mentioned, the absence of an audience can generate both negative and positive effects, depending on the environment, personality, attentional styles and concentration processes that the specific person presents.

For many athletes, the fans and spectators give them a sense of security, confidence and enable them to perform at their best. On the contrary, other athletes perceive it as added pressure, as a stimulus that can distract them and generate mistrust, and therefore perform worse. To better understand both ideas, a series of psychological processes that can explain both positions are presented below:

1. Social facilitation.

La influencia del público en el rendimiento deportivo

Social facilitation corresponds to the improvement in the execution of a specific activity that occurs when there are other people watching us. Specifically, this phenomenon occurs when carrying out simple activities, tasks that we perform very well, or highly automated actions. However, if we carry out an activity that we have not yet mastered or that does not generate much confidence, the presence of the public has the opposite effect, we become more nervous and tend to perform worse.

Taken to the sports field, let us think, for example, of a climber in the presence of spectators, in those simpler routes it is likely that he will present a better performance, while in the more complex routes, he is likely to make more mistakes and his execution be worse.

2. Social inhibition.

La influencia del público en el rendimiento deportivo

This corresponds to what was just mentioned, with the presence of spectators performance worsens. In general, it is associated with novel situations and very complex activities or tasks that we do not master. This process can be explained through the level of activation, since when carrying out a new or complicated activity, our activation normally increases, if it increases excessively, it can be harmful, since it reduces our concentration and increases mental and muscular tension. The public increases this activation and generates more pressure. One of the most effective tools in these cases are breathing exercises.

3. Fear of evaluation.

La influencia del público en el rendimiento deportivo

This process is given by the need that we present in today's society to demonstrate perfection before others. The fear of failing and being wrong in front of other people is highly influential in our sports performance. The athletes, coaching staff and referees generate expectations about how they consider that they are being perceived and evaluated by the spectators. Specifically in complicated tasks or in situations where we have low self-confidence or are very self-demanding, not generating a negative impression contributes to increasing pressure and anxiety, which has an impact on our sports performance.

4. The effect of distraction.

La influencia del publico en el rendimiento deportivo

The public normally encourages their athletes with the aim of transmitting confidence and security, however, sometimes these songs and encouragement can become a source of distraction. Athletes can be disturbed by the noise generated by spectators, which has a negative influence on their concentration, attention and decision-making ability. In general, this effect tends to occur to a lesser extent in more professional athletes. This is because they tend to be more used to it and have acquired the ability to catch the energy of the public or the ability to ignore this noise.

Two fundamental aspects also influence all of this:

  • Compete “at home”: In other words, compete in a familiar environment. It is known that when we compete outside our usual stadium, track or circuit, an extra difficulty is added. Athletes feel more comfortable, confident and perform better in familiar environments and surrounded by their fans. When we compete "away from home" the public that we usually have is mostly a rival, which influences increasing our pressure, anxiety, nerves and therefore losing concentration and presenting a worse execution. In fact, a study carried out by the Autonomous University of Madrid showed that in soccer, the advantage of playing at home for the local team is 56%.

  • The feeling of belonging. The human being is a social being, and therefore we have the innate need to belong to a social group. The spectators cheering us on from the stands exert that positive effect of belonging, which gives us a feeling of support, control, motivation and confidence. For example, when a basketball player makes a mistake on a pass, if the crowd encourages him to continue, he will continue playing with the same motivation and confidence. If, on the contrary, the stands are mostly rivals and when they make the mistake they whistle and congratulate them for it, the player will become more nervous and tense, reducing their confidence and concentration.

In general, the public, being a routine and habitual stimulus in matches and competitions, is associated with them and favors the mentality and behavior of competition. So the lack of this, once used, can have a negative effect. These negative results can be reversed with adequate psychological work, work focused on self-motivation, self-reinforcement, self-dialogue, visualization, relaxation, activation and concentration exercises.

To finish, emphasize that competing under the gaze and noise of the stands can work in our favor or, on the contrary, harm us. The important thing is that each athlete, professional coaching staff and referees, are aware of the specific influence that the public exerts on them, in this way to be able to turn it into their ally.

“Work your strengths to make them your allies and work your weaknesses to make them your strengths”

Leticia Montoya