September 25 2017

Don’t let your team get you down

Jacqui Louder
By Sports psychologist

For fans, sports can deliver your highest highs – and your lowest lows. Here is how to stay upbeat through the ups and downs of your sporting life

This is one of the biggest months of the year for sports fans. Both the AFL and NFL host their finals series, plus there’s the lead-up to the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix, Rugby League World Cup, Fast5 Netball World Series and the Spring Racing Carnival in Melbourne.

Supporting a sports team, whether it be football, netball, rugby or soccer, is a great way to be social and meet different people. But it’s important that people don’t take their support for their team too far.

For those whose lives revolve around sport, it’s a hectic time. And while most people associate sports fans with passion and fun, there’s also a serious side that can have negative impacts on fan’s mental health and wellbeing.

As a sports psychologist who has worked with professional sports teams and Olympic athletes, I have seen first-hand how the expectation of winning can develop into stress and even generate depressive symptoms in some of the game’s most ardent supporters.

For fans who essentially plan their life around the sports season, the high-pressure finals seasons can exaggerate these symptoms, and negatively affect fans’ quality of life.

A lot of people will plan their whole year around the footy season, which means they form a strong attachment to their team; it gives them something to do each week and a sense of belonging.

But when it comes to finals, there are a number of fans now that have six months without their regular week-to-week game and we can often see a lot of depression occur because these fans no longer have that weekly structure. So from that perspective, it can be a really tough time for many fans and their mental health.

Why this can happen is because fans invest a lot of energy, time and money into their teams, and when their team doesn’t perform the way they expect, it can really affect these fan’s moods: if their team wins, then it changes their mood; if their team loses, it changes their mood.

There’s a lot of adrenaline and emotion involved at this time of the year because some fans invest so much and if their team loses, it can be quite depressing. Or, if their team wins, it creates a huge sense of elation and belonging, as if they’ve accomplished something. If a fan is still riled up over what happened to their team throughout the week, then that’s a good sign of a poor perspective and being over-invested.

My advice for sports fans is to keep your team’s performance in healthy perspective and ensure that you have other interests and hobbies to keep you pre-occupied. If you, or someone you know, find yourself becoming overly invested, then it’s probably time to step away for a while and gain some perspective about what’s really important.

Players themselves don’t respond as badly as some of their fans, mainly because they can’t afford to do so;  players only have a day or two, then they have to get ready for the next game.

There’s another important reason, too: players have a level of control over the results that their fans simply don’t have. Players and athletes are the ones on the sports field, kicking the ball, after all. And they’re all highly trained and skilled and they don’t have the time to be sitting around thinking about last week; they have to re-set, re-focus and go.

For fans who have taken their passion for sport a bit too far, take a note out of your favourite player’s book, and look towards the future, and don’t dwell on games too much. Instead, focus on what you do have control over and put time and energy into things in your life that give you much more fulfillment and control.

Fans can still enjoy the game and attend matches on the weekend, but it’s important to have that balance in their lives. After all, it is just a game.