When you think of sport today, automatically one relates it to competition, defeating opponents, overcoming challenges and of course combat. Sometimes it comes down to doing whatever it takes to win. Respect is sometimes lost towards the sport and in the way we view or treat each other or even teammates.
But there are other relations between sport and love or romance and the benefits may outweigh the negatives.
According to Dr Michael W Austin, professor of philosophy at Eastern Kentucky University, "In its ideal form, love includes a desire for the good of the beloved and union with the beloved. This is not only the case in romantic love, but friendship, parental love, love of one’s neighbour, love of one’s teammates, and love of God. All of these forms of love include a close relationship of some sort."
But is it at all realistic that the virtue of love for God and others can be cultivated and exemplified in sport? It may be rare, but if it is intentionally cultivated, the virtue of love can flourish in athletic contexts. Austin used the example of former professional American football player and high school football coach Joe Ehrmann’s approach to coaching.
He and his fellow coaches worked to build their players into men who are other-centred and have a transcendent cause to live for that is greater than themselves. This is countercultural in many ways but shows what is possible in the realm of sport, even with a team of 14-18-year-old boys playing a violent game.
We are all aware of the positive impact exercise can have on both our physical and mental health but are we aware of the impact our emotions and hormones could be having on our exercise and performance?
Studies have shown that being in love can help athletic performance. In a questionnaire, athletes believed their sporting performance was enhanced when they were in love. Professional athletes are focused on the rewarding outcomes of progressing in their sport and the success which comes with it. Therefore, when these athletes fall in love and the system related to reward and motivation is activated, their athletic performance may either be enhanced or reduced.
Romantic-Passionate Love (RPL), or being “in love” is a euphoric state experienced in relationships cross-culturally. Researchers who examined RPL and creativity found that creativity was enhanced during this relationship stage (Campbell & Kaufman, 2015). Because of the direct association between RPL and the reward-motivation system of the brain (Aron et al., 2005), RPL may influence behaviours associated with this brain region.
In other words, the effect of RPL, whether positive or negative, maybe pronounced for individuals who are already focused on tasks associated with the reward-motivation system. RPL and athletics are characterised by overlapping qualities such as strong emotion, focused attention, and high energy, which may either enhance or detract from a person’s experience in each domain.
The emotionally charged state of RPL may influence an individual’s functioning in other domains involving the motivation-reward system of the brain. This is according to a report "Does love influence athletic performance" on ccsenet.org. High-level athletes are intensely focused on the rewarding outcomes of excelling in their sport and winning competitions. When these athletes experience RPL, and their reward-motivation system is activated, their athletic performance may either be enhanced or hampered (Birrer & Morgan, 2010).
Although there are positive outcomes associated with RPL, which may spill over to enhance athletic performance, negative outcomes may emerge as well (Reis & Aron, 2008). For example, relationships in this stage may be characterised by jealousy or conflict, causing partners to experience mood swings, anxiety, and depression. These outcomes, whether minor or major, can directly affect an athlete’s performance.
Twenty-two Olympic athletes were approached for a study on this topic from the countries Belarus, Canada, France, Germany, Norway, Ukraine and the United States. Two indicated that they had never been in love. Only those athletes (19 male, 1 female) who had been in love were asked to respond to questions about athletic performance.
Most participants felt their athletic performance was better while in love. Reasons for those who reported improvements tended to focus on non-RPL explanations. One participant noted that his performance was better because his girlfriend “lives with [him] and helps handle pressure while supporting [him].”
Another participant stated, “Being in love may be better for a professional athlete, but bad for an amateur athlete.” He believed amateur athletes experience unique stressors (e.g., financial strain, lack of formal training) that are less common amongst professional athletes, and that being in love would add to, rather than buffer those stressors.
Donohue and colleagues (2007) examined the influence of coaches, family members, and peers, and concluded that each group has an effect on athletic performance. Coaches foster positive outcomes when they utilise constructive feedback and reinforcement techniques.
Athletes who perceive their coach’s support and praise as well-intentioned have higher self-esteem and experience greater enjoyment in their sport (Smith, 2006; Smith, Smoll, & Cumming, 2006). Correspondingly, athletes perceive themselves as less capable when they are exposed to high levels of criticism and low levels of positive reinforcement from coaches. Family relationships also influence an athlete’s performance.
Athletes involved in team sports experience a performance boost when team members have positive social interactions, group solidarity, and close friendships (Pugh, Wolff, Gilley, DeFrancesco, Gilley, & Heitman, 2000). Team competitors additionally experience positive emotions resulting from the release of brain chemicals during their sport, and this positive mood can transfer to teammates (Moll, Jordet, & Pepping, 2010).
Romantic partners may influence athletic performance in ways that parallel the impact of coaches, family members, and teammates. For example, partners in new relationships experience elevated oxytocin levels (Moll et al., 2010), which may transfer into the athletic environment and positively impact performance.
Taken together, the literature indicates that close relationships benefit an athlete’s performance when they are supportive, and detract from performance when they are critical or demanding. While it should never be allowed to affect concentration, it's obvious that having a loved one spur you on from the stands or greet you after a tough match, practice or long travel, either in person or through technology, does in fact have its benefits. Seems like it's better when there is in fact, "Love in the House."
Shaun Fuentes is the head of TTFA Media. He is a former FIFA Media Officer at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa and 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey The views expressed are solely his and not a representation of any organisation. email@example.com