Is There Really a "Home Advantage" in Sports?
Most people would assume that playing at your home venue tends to swing the favour in your team's direction. But what does the research say on this topic? Is there really that big of a difference playing at home versus away? If these are professionals, shouldn't they be able to perform optimally anywhere?
Well it turns out athletes are not machines as some may think. Many factors can influence psychological and behavioural states of athletes, coaches, and referees, as many of you may have noticed watching your favourite teams:
In the 2014/2015 season, the Spanish La Liga home advantage accounted for 45% of wins, compared to 31% away wins. In the English Premier League, home wins were at 45%, and away wins at 30%. In the German Bundesliga, it was 47% home wins and 26% away wins.
From 1979 to 2014 in the NBA, home teams
won 62.1% of their games. Staggering!
In the 2014/2015 NHL season, it was 54.7% in favour of home ice advantage.
What is also interesting is that home advantage accounted for almost all teams, but it was the away wins that seperated the top half of the standings from the bottom half! Percentages will also vary from sport to sport, as different sports have their own unique culture.
This is all interesing stuff. But why does home advantage skew so much in one direction? According to some models, the most relevant causes of home advantage are:
(1) the influence of the crowd
(2) the familiarity with the context
(3) travel fatigue
(4) rule factors that favor the home athlete/team
These factors can sometimes drastically influence performance, as some research showing that there have even been decreases in performance of up to 24% when relocating venues. However, other research also suggests the opposite happens. This just shows the complexity of the factors that have an affect on the performance of not just athletes, but on refeeres as well, as it is well known that match officials (who are human too by the way; who knew!?) can be easily persuaded to make calls in favour of the home team.
The existence and magnitude of home advantage has been shown by many, and it is likely that a number of individual as well as environmental factors interact with each other and influence the psychological and behavioural states of coaches, referees, and athletes. Home advantage is probably the result of their combined effect and the influence of other less explored factors such as competition pressure, personality, state of mind, external life factors, athletes’ salaries or even ticket prices. We must remember that athletes are not robots, that they are people too and that sport is as much of a mental game as it is physical.
Sport psychology professionals can help teams in promoting positive psychological states, emotional and arousal coping, focusing on the controllables and more. The most succesful coaches and organizations understand that these mental factors have an influence and take measures to ensure that their athletes are both physically and mentally fit for the occassion. Educating athletes on these elements can greatly increase their self-awareness on how they react individually to home and away matches, and how they can train themselves to perform as consistently as possible. More research is needed in this area, but we can safely say that there are definetly complex factors that influence performance, and that for the most part playing at home gives you a statistical advantage!
- Legaz-Arrese, A., Moliner-Urdiales, D., & Munguía-Izquierdo, D. (2013). Home Advantage and Sports Performance: Evidence, Causes and Psychological Implications. Universitas Psychologica, 12(3), 1-22