The Role of the Spectator in Sport: Take a Step Back and Appreciate

There's a very interesting trend going on in the world of sport, and I think COVID has almost amped it up to another level.  There has always been a sense of connection between the spectator and the team or players.  At the lower level of sport, parents are obviously the main level of connection and there is a lot out there about the role of parents in youth sport.  At higher levels of competition, the sports fan comes slightly more into play.

Madrigal and Dalakis (2008) did an interesting review on the sports spectator and how the game influences their attitudes and behaviors.  They basically argue that spectators are so locked into sports because of the emotion that it provides.  This can mean the pleasant emotions of a win, but also the pain of a loss.  It's those emotions that give a sense of meaning and identity to the spectator and subsequently causes them to behave in a certain way.  This is why we see fights over rivalry losses and parties over big wins.  I'm not here to argue that any of that emotional investment is inherently wrong, because I'm in that situation myself all the time.  I'm here to argue that when emotional investment starts affecting others, this is where the line should be drawn because it takes away from the basic value of sport that we all have the right to enjoy.

There has been quite a lot of recent research in the psychology and sociology of sport that focuses on the spectator, but I think there will be even more of an increase with COVID because of the way spectators watch and the changes in structure.  Personally, I'm seeing examples of non-stakeholders in sport, going all the way down to the lower levels, showing behaviors that make me cringe.  That's why I want to share my opinion on the matter.  Some fans feel that involvement so strongly that they begin to project values on others.  "You support this team so you are _______."  "You play this way so you must be _______."  The examples could go on almost forever.  Whether they play for your team or the opponent or whether they root for your team or not, they are still people.  I don't know why society tends to depersonalize athletes more so than other groups, but I'd be interested to find out.  This is a problem that won't be solved anytime soon, but we should probably get to work so the value of sport remains for years to come and we continue to have kids who dream to play at the highest level.  Stay involved and cheer for your teams, but take a step back every once in a while and appreciate the fact that sport can go on, even in a pandemic.

Madrigal, R., & Dalakas, V. (2008). Consumer psychology of sport: More than just a game. In C. P. Haugtvedt, P. M. Herr, & F. R. Kardes (Eds.), Marketing and consumer psychology series: Vol. 4. Handbook of consumer psychology (p. 857–876). Taylor & Francis Group/Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.


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