The influence of the public on sports performance

July 14, 2021

The influence of the public on sports performance

As a result of 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 have influenced our performance and well-being.

Within the scope sports One of the great 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 or so strange to see empty stadiums, fields and bleachers, to see athletes compete without the ambient noise that characterizes, for example, football 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. Then, What has it meant for sport to compete in empty stadiums and stands? Is it better to compete with or without an audience?

The influence of the public on sports performance

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

Depending on whether the presence of spectators exerts a positive effect and supposes an incentive on our performance or harms it, we can speak of social facilitation or social inhibitionrespectively.

The main change they have been exposed to has been the no two-way communication that occurs between the fans and the athlete, technicians 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 from both the rival fans and ours. If we remove this stimulus, one of the consequences is the reduction of mindset, concentration and feeling of competition, that is why the psychological aspects take on great importance.

The influence of the public on athletic performance

La self motivation and self reinforcement positives become essential to acquire the state of concentration and mental preparation that is 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 mentioned above, 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 feeling of security, confidence and enable them to perform at their best. On the contrary, other athletes perceive it as an added pressure, as a stimulus that can deconcentrate 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.

The influence of the public on sports performance

Social facilitation corresponds to Mejora in the execution of a specific activity that occurs when there are other people watching us. Specifically, this phenomenon occurs in the performance of 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 security for us, the presence of the public has the opposite effect, we get more nervous and we tend to present a worse execution.

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

2. Social inhibition.

The influence of the public on sports performance

This corresponds to the aforementioned, with the presence of spectators the 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 activation level, since when performing a novel or complicated activity, normally our activation 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 is breathing exercises.

3. Fear of evaluation.

The influence of the public on sports performance

This process is given by the need that we present in today's society for demonstrate perfection to others. The fear of failing and making mistakes in front of other people is highly influential in our athletic 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 we are very self-demanding, not generating a negative impression contributes to increasing pressure and anxiety, which affects our sports performance.

4. The effect of distraction.

The influence of the public on athletic performance

The public usually encourages their athletes with the aim of transmitting confidence and security, however, sometimes these chants and encouragement can become a source of distraction. Athletes can be disturbed by 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 this: 

  • Competing "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 audience that we usually have is mostly rival, which increases our pressure, anxiety, nerves and therefore lose focus and present 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 to play with the same motivation and confidence. If, on the contrary, the stands are mostly rival and when making 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 competition behaviors. 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-dialogues, visualizations, relaxations, activations and concentration exercises.

Finally, to emphasize that competing under the gaze and noise of the stands can play in our favor or on the contrary, harm us. The important thing is that each athlete, professional of the coaching staff and referees, are aware of the concrete influence that the public exerts on them, in this way they can become their ally.

"Work your strengths to make them your allies and work your weaknesses to make them your strengths"

Leticia Montoya


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