The Roots of Rooting

The Psychology of Sport Fans

5 Ways Fans Can Cope With World Cup Elimination

Below are 5 healthier ways to cope.

For all but one team, the World Cup ends with elimination. Some fans respond by smashing televisions. Others respond by drinking themselves into oblivion. Below are five healthier ways to cope.

1. Focus on the positives (social creativity). The most direct comparison between two competing groups is game outcome, specifically the final score. When your favorite team has been defeated, everybody knows which team (and their fan base) has achieved a positive social identity and whose social identity is threatened. To counter this threat, fans can emphasize other successes. For example, the United States Men’s National Team’s (USMNT) fan may recognize they were defeated 2-1, but emphasize the accomplishment of defying expectations and escaping the “Group of Death”. Other fans may cling to outstanding individual performances and make statements like, “We lost, but Tim Howard had the best goal keeping performance ever.”

2. Remind yourself that at least you’re not that guy (social creativity – changing the outgroup). If you compare the USMNT to Belgium’s National Team, the U.S. comes up short (2-1). If you compare the USMNT to its northern neighbor’s team (Canada) who did not qualify for the World Cup and whose citizens would most likely free associate futbol with Doug Flutie or the Grey Cup; or to Portugal who has arguably the world’s best player but was unable to escape the “Group of Death”, one can feel better about the USMNT’s performance.

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3. Instead of focusing on how “we” lost; move on to a surviving “we” (social mobility).  No, no….I’m NOT suggesting that you pack up and move to and become a citizen of a country of one of the remaining teams (especially Germany because based on the USMNT’s roster it seems like the trend is to move from Germany to the US and not vice versa), but simply identify with and support teams’ that are central to your heritage. Imagine a Mexican citizen named Jose Luís Müller whose ethnicity is 50% Mexican and 50% German. Once the Netherlands defeated his El Tri 2-1 in the round of 16, Señor Müller may want to support Germany, as the games are always more enjoyable when you identify with one of the teams. (Note: It may be difficult for others to accept this change in allegiances especially if your house is painted in team colors or you sport a tattoo of your nation’s flag on your chest, bicep, and especially forehead.)

4. Remember that the other football season is right around the corner (make salient subordinate social identities). Like the Olympics, the World Cup brings a sense of unity to American sports fans typically segregated by their affiliations with sport teams that compete in their geographic region. A way to cope with the USMNT’s defeat is to make salient these local identities. For example, the USMNT’s fan who lives in Cleveland might turn his attention to his beloved Browns, monitoring Johnny Manziel’s performance in practice while ensuring that his Browns-painted short-bus is in peak condition for the upcoming tailgate season. The USMNT’s fan in St. Louis may refocus on the Cardinals and their pursuit of the Brewers for the National League Central crown. The activation of these identities may redefine who these fans are from supporters of a team that lost to supporters of teams that still have hope they will be successful.

5. Identify with a player’s pro team (create a new social identity). USMNT’s fans may choose to continue to support the “team” by supporting the individual players and their respective professional squads. Would it be a great shock if Everton, the team that currently employs Tim Howard, experiences a spike in US support? Or if those who live in close proximity to Matt Besler’s first-place Sporting Kansas City team begin to support the team? Probably not. By identifying with these teams, fans can reclaim positive social identities without having to wait four years until the next World Cup.

Regardless of the elimination, fans should rejoice in the USMNT’s performance, honor those who competed, and recognize that there are more USMNT’s fans today than ever before who need to cope. Thankfully, we have time before Russia.

 

Christian M. End, a social psychologist who investigates the psychology of sport fan behavior, is an associate professor at Xavier University.

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