A supportive crowd can help athletes push on to bigger and better performances. Research shows that having family and friends watch can help increase both motivation and persistence. So how exactly does a supportive crowd help?
The Crowd Makes a Difference
Performing in front of a crowd can provide a positive distraction fatigue. To focus on the crowd instead of their pain has been demonstrated to be an effective strategy to help athletes when they are tiring and about to 'hit the wall'. Likewise, the presence of social support, such as friends and family, or a training partner, will also aid motivation, helping athletes to maintain persistence.
What to Say and When
Does it make a difference how often the crowd encourages you? Apparently so. Frequent verbal encouragement has been found to increase maximal effort in running tasks. In treadmill-based tests, physical performance improved if verbal encouragement was given every 20 to 60 seconds, compared to if it was given every 180 seconds.
The nature of the verbal encouragement is also important. Encouragement could take two different forms: a focus on effort or a focus on performance outcome. Too much encouragement directed towards a the outcome may increase feelings of pressure and therefore increase anxiety and stress.
Effort based encouragement, or encouragement surrounding the execution of the task as opposed to the result, should increase intrinsic motivation. It is also more beneficial to provide positive support that focuses on approaching success as opposed to avoiding failure. Encouragement should therefore be positive in nature and focus on persistence and effort as opposed to performance or results/outcomes.
While verbal encouragement is effective in increasing effort and performance, further positive impact can be made if it is combined with additional visual feedback. Examples of this may include supportive signs and placards.
Remember to Smile
Studies have found that visual cues do not have to be consciously processed for increased endurance performance to occur. In an endurance cycling task, performance was significantly greater in those who were subliminally primed with happy faces than in those who were subliminally primed with sad faces. This highlights the potential impact of the faces within the crowd on effort runners and the need for positive support.
We would like to thank Hannah Newman for her great work in helping us write this blog. We think she is going to make a first class sports psychologist and strongly recommend you follow her: @Hannahnewm