The Head and Shoulders Psychology of Success Project: An Examination of Perceptions of Olympic Athletes
Wann, Daniel L., North American Journal of Psychology
Over the past several decades, research in sport psychology has greatly enhanced our understanding of the affective, behavioral, and cognitive reactions of sport participants. This research has examined participants from many levels of competition including youth sport (Brustad, 1993; Roberts, 1993), recreational participants (Wesch, Law, & Hall, 2007), and elite performers (Vanden Auweele, De Cuyper, Van Mele, & Rzewnicki, 1993). The purpose of the current project was to investigate the psychology of success among Olympians, thus expanding our understanding of these elite athletes. There were four themes targeted in this research: the impact of fan support, perceptions of the home field advantage, the importance of pre-event rituals, and perceptions of attributes that lead to athletic success.
With respect to fan support, one of the earliest studies in sport and social psychology found that audiences play a key role in motor and athletic performance (Davis, Huss, & Becker, 1995; Triplett, 1898). Indeed, a large body of literature now exists detailing the impact of fan and spectator support (Bray & Widmeyer, 2000; Wann, 1997) and it is clear that fans can strongly and with great devotion support their favorite athletes and teams (Wann, Melnick, Russell, & Pease, 2001). For instance, audiences can lead to a social facilitation effect, in which the audience leads to arousal and increases the performer's dominant response (Zajonc, 1965). Consequently, successful athletes tend to perform better in front of an audience while unsuccessful athletes will exhibit a decline in performance. This pattern of effects has been substantiated in sport environments (Davis & Harvey, 1992; Singer, 1965). To extend past work, this research examined athletes' perceptions of three specific aspects of fan support. Specifically, they indicated the extent to which they viewed fans as a source of support, the degree to which they believed fan support had an impact on their performance, and the extent to which they felt that fan support affected their confidence.
The second theme examined athletes' beliefs in the home field advantage. Because spectator support is viewed as a major cause of the home field advantage (Courneya & Carron, 1992), this theme was related to the previous theme examining perceptions of fan support. The home field advantage is one of the most well-documented findings in sport psychology (Carron & Hausenblas, 1998). This phenomenon has been noted in numerous sports and at many levels of competition (Jamieson, 2010), including the Olympic Games (Balmer, Nevill, & Williams, 2001, 2003; Leonard, 1989). However, few studies have investigated athletes' perceptions of the home field advantage. One study that did focus on athlete perceptions of the home advantage was conducted by Bray and Widmeyer (2000). These authors examined the perceptions of female intercollegiate basketball players. The respondents were asked to indicate their beliefs in the influence of several game location factors. The results indicated that home court familiarity, fan support, and travel were all believed to be influential in leading to a home field advantage. While this study was quite informative, the respondents were collegiate players and researchers had yet to investigate the home field advantage perceptions of Olympic athletes. Furthermore, sport scientists had yet to fully investigate strategies athletes use to cope with an opponent's home advantage. The current investigation was designed to fill these research voids.
The third topic involved participants' pre-event rituals. Pre-event rituals can have a beneficial impact on athletic performance and may take many forms, including psychological, behavioral, or even luck-related (Bull, Albinson, & Shambrook, 1996; Murphy & Jowdy, 1992; Wann, 1997). Indeed, many athletes report superstitious pre-event rituals (Neil, 1982), including participants in basketball (Gregory & Petrie, 1975), hockey (Zimmer, 1984), and baseball (Wann, 1997). …