Both athletes and fans believe that audience support (e.g., cheering) is one of the top influences on a team’s success, particularly at home when the crowd is predominantly supportive, possibly contributing to reported home-field advantage (Courneya & Carron, 1992). Yet there are few experimental investigations of whether distinctive types of audience feedback have differential effects on athletes’ performance of particular sports skills. In this study, college athletes performed a familiar task in their respective sport (pitching, free throw shooting, hitting a golf ball) in front of audiences who cheered, jeered, and remained silent, depending on the assigned condition. Basketball players’ free throw performance was unaffected by audience condition, but jeers hurt performance for baseball pitchers, and jeers and cheers resulted in worse performance for golfers. Audiences or fans can impact performance, but impact may depend on sport, the specific sport skill, and specific audience behavior. Implications for understanding the role of audiences and home-field advantage are considered.
There are a number of factors that can influence an athlete’s performance during a game other than the athlete’s skill. Athletes must perform in front of crowds in every game, and crowds express their feelings about athletes’ performances by, for instance, cheering (supporting them) or jeering (discouraging them). The presence of such an audience may affect team and individual athlete performance. Social facilitation has been characterized as the effect of observers on individual performance (Butler & Baumeister, 1998; Zajonc, 1965). In general, research shows the presence of one or more spectators can enhance performance if the skill is easy or well learned, but performance may decrease if the task is difficult or unfamiliar (Cottrell, Wack, Sekerak, & Rittle, 1968; Forgas, Brennan, Howe, Kane, & Sweet, 1980; Strauss, 2002a; Zajonc, 1965). For example, in one of the earliest...
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