At every sporting venue, fans are the bloodline that fuels the event. It is obvious that without the fans, no professional or college sports teams would exist. Understanding their importance in regard to revenue generated by the organization or school is easy, but then I began to think beyond the main reason teams need fans. So I posed a question: Do fans actually play a vital part in a game’s outcome or have a direct impact on an individual’s athletic performance?
A few days ago I was browsing my Facebook and came across a message from a fellow racquetball player with a small clip from an article titled, Cheers vs. Jeers: Effects of Audience Feedback on Individual Athletic Performance. The article breaks down how fans’ positive, negative and even neutral interactions with individual athletes (basketball players shooting a free throw, golfers and baseball pitchers) have a direct effect on their ability to perform. In an experiment led by L. Kimberly Epting of Elon University, pitchers threw 40% fewer strikes when the crowd jeered than when they cheered. In another study, (Salminen, 1993; Strauss, 2002b) there was no evidence found for an enhancing effect of a supportive audience behavior. Nor did the study suggest a negative effect on Team B when fans cheered for Team A. Personally, I feel my game is enhanced when the crowd is vocal, regardless whether they are for or against me!
These studies obviously make me circle back to racquetball and how fan interaction has an impact on matches. Does the proximity of the fans have more or less of an impact on players? One of the most memorable experiences I have ever had was at the 2006 US Open when Jason Mannino played Jack Huczek in the semifinals. I have never been around such an electrically charged racquetball atmosphere. The high-level of play was amplified by one of the most intense crowds racquetball has ever seen. It was one of those matches that gives spectators goosebumps and that makes kids dream of one day standing in that court, listening to a full crowd chanting their names.
At the end of the day, my goal as a professional International Racquetball Tour (IRT) player is to win to support my family and myself. That being said, I am also an entertainer at heart who loves energetic crowds. Although I have not conducted any studies into the influence of fans, I know they make a difference. Whether you cheer me, jeer me, or both, I speak for everyone on tour saying we welcome as much crowd participation as possible. Just like in other professional sports, racquetball fans are the most integral part of our game, and we need them to grow.
Thankfully this match was captured on camera and is available on YouTube to relive! Most of the match is on there, but here’s the video with the last few amazing points go to the Racquetball Warehouse http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l38jHwcNI3s and check out more tips, training, and videos.