Like a red rag for a tiger: Can jersey colors really affect results in sports? | sport

HThere is one to ponder while gazing at another dull, drab December sky. Can color affect athletic performance? Tiger Woods certainly thinks so. “I wear red on Sundays because my mom thinks it’s my color of power,” he said, as he made his way to 15 majors. The same is true of Sir Alex Ferguson, who changed Manchester United’s gray kits at half-time in a 1996 loss to Southampton because he said his players struggled to distinguish themselves. Meanwhile, for more than 15 years, a battle raged in the sober newspapers over whether a red uniform can provide a winning advantage – and whether other colors result in a disadvantage.

Newspapers including the Guardian and the New York Times have also reported on the latest developments with breathtaking fascination. “Red is the color of the winners,” we wrote in 2005. “When all is equal, a sporty scarlet band is enough to tip the scales. Our report highlighted a very influential study in Nature that examined combat sports at the 2004 Olympics and found that in 19 of 29 weight classes in boxing, taekwondo, Greco-Roman and acrobatic wrestling, the red had more winners than blue.

According to academics, the color red provided a slight edge but sturdy enough to tilt the result.

Meanwhile, in 2008, another college team made another startling claim: that teams dressed in red not only won more titles in English football between 1946 and 2003, but they also won more at home. and had a higher average position in the league compared to their derby rivals in the same city which wore other colors. There was even a theory to explain this apparent phenomenon, rooted in evolution and culture, and linking red with dominance and a tendency for aggressive behavior. As The Guardian explained in 2005: “Redness indicates anger, testosterone and male aggressiveness in humans, mandrills and sticklebacks. In the experiments, the red bands of the legs helped the banded birds to gain a higher place in the pecking order. Red plays a big role in signaling superiority in the animal world.

It may sound plausible. Maybe even tantalizing. However, a new study, Red Shirt Color Has No Effect on Winning in European Soccer, published in the January 2022 journal of Psychology of Sport and Exercise crushes a large torpedo under the red superiority hypothesis. Early researchers reanalyzed the original 2008 English football study and found some of the assumptions and conclusions to be “wrong”. Then they performed a detailed statistical analysis of the Premier League results between 1992 and 2018 to see if red had made a difference in recent years, but found “no evidence for the alternative hypothesis of an effect of color on the percentages of home wins, points per game and average classification ”.

That was not all. Scholars from the University of San Diego and the German Sports University then looked at matches in Portugal, Germany, the Netherlands, France and Italy over the past 20 years. Once again, they found that the color of a team’s kit did not significantly impact expected performance.

Is the Los Angeles Kings’ Drew Doughty more likely to get the referee’s attention than Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk because of his black jersey? A 2012 article suggested so. Photograph: Mark J Terrill / AP

“Overall, with the statistics we have, it is much more likely that this null hypothesis is true: that there are no color effects,” says one of the report’s authors, the Dr Philip Furley. “And so it’s about 10 times more likely that in all the data there is no color effect, as opposed to a color effect. Another of the report’s authors, Nadav Goldschmied, says the findings reflect a broader trend. “Sounds like a good story, that wearing red can make a difference,” adds Goldschmied, who has tried to find evidence of the effect of red’s superiority in both men’s and women’s NCAA basketball without success. “But it is not empirically supported.”

This, however, is not the end of the matter. A second area of ​​discussion centers on whether wearing certain colors affects visibility. Oddly enough, the theory developed after researchers noticed that those who wore blue over white appeared to win more judo matches at the 2004 Athens Olympics than you might expect. Their explanation? That those in white stood out more against the background of the fans and that their movements were therefore more easily detected by the opponents. Yet when other researchers looked at judo at the 2004 Games, they found no benefit to those who wore blue. Meanwhile, a third area of ​​research, examining how referees subconsciously react to a team’s kit, suggests that teams in black could be penalized more often. The theory is that black is associated with malevolence, and therefore professional gamers wearing the color are considered more aggressive.

And, oddly enough, a major study, looking at 25 seasons of NHL penalty minutes data, seems to back it up. He revealed that teams dressed in black were given more penalty minutes, while white jerseys were only associated with less aggression compared to colored uniforms.

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Additionally, for the 10 teams that switched to – or from – black uniforms, the effect was also marginally significant. Even so, it is worth being careful here. There is so much that goes into a referee’s decision in a team sport – from the home advantage to the aggressiveness levels of the players themselves – that great care must be taken to separate these effects. . Claudio Gentile would always be Claudio Gentile, whether he wears white or black. Gary Lineker too.

So where does all of this take us? As a major review of 33 studies addressing the link between color and athletic performance noted last year, there is a “very ambiguous outcome pattern” in this nascent discipline, often due to small sample sizes and methods. questionable research. However, his conclusion is clear: “The current state of affairs makes us doubt the possible influence of uniform colors on sports performance and subsequently on game results.”

And don’t tell Tiger that, but red’s supposed superiority seems dead.

Elizabeth J. Harless