Posted in Sport Psychology

World Cup Failure: The Psychology of Being a Fan

World Cup Failure

A Brazilian friend of mine recently told me about a ritual that she and her German husband have gotten into for the World Cup. Whenever Germany—her husband’s team—wins, she has to put $10 into a jar in the kitchen. Whenever Brazil wins, her husband does the same. Draws require a $5 donation from both of them. Whoever’s team advances further gets to keep the money.

I asked, “But what if both Brazil and Germany make it to the finals against each other—which could actually happen? What then?”

“If it’s a draw, then we’ll use that money as a down payment for our marriage counseling,” she said. “If Germany wins, he can use it to pay for a divorce lawyer.”

I had known that tensions run high amongst athletes at the Cup. After England was eliminated from the World Cup, midfielder Jack Wilshire tweeted:


But my friend’s joke (hopefully) brought home a real lesson. Sports fans often live and die on their team’s fortunes, sometimes to the detriment of their physical and mental health. Research shows a correlation between a home team’s performance in big games—like the Super Bowl—with the amount of cardiac-related deaths in that area over the following week.

So what can you, as a sports fan, do to calm your nerves and keep the adrenaline of a close game from threatening your health? Here are three suggestions:

1. Reframe your narrative. For an example, consider US star Michael Bradley’s response after a difficult draw with Portugal:

“I put my heart and soul into every game every time I step on the field. It’s a cruel game sometimes… I’m proud of that and proud of what I’m about every time I play and there’s certainly no regrets in my book.”

Bradley doesn’t talk about failures, but about successes: about what went right instead of what went wrong. Often a team plays well but the results aren’t ideal.  I work with professional athletes to “control the controllables”. Focusing on doing more of what they did well and “flushing” what didn’t go well that was outside of their control. Fans could do the same, and better their ability to bounce back.

2. Do other things to relax and cool down. As an example, look at Japanese fans’ reaction after losing to Brazil—they cleaned up the stadium! If you find yourself too amped up after a game, use that energy constructively (mow the lawn, listen to some music to change the vibe) to ensure your adrenaline works for you rather than on you.

3. Avoid reading too much press.  It’s human nature to want all the facts after “something goes wrong.” But reading article after article, trying to understand what went wrong and whom to blame, is not only unproductive, it can also foster damaging negative feelings. Instead, I suggest taking a step back, turning off the news, dropping that $10 into the jar, and looking ahead to the next opportunity with a smile.