It’s World Cup time! Which means I’m actively not watching the World Cup because I don’t watch football except for the last World Cup when I tried and stopped after four minutes of watching dudes run after a ball. Yeah, I don’t appreciate the nuances of the game. I’m a savage.
But watching emotions run hot, as they always do, and as people are inevitably disappointed when their team doesn’t win the whole World Cup for themselves, including my friend who was visibly depressed the morning after Portugal was ousted by Uruguay – it all reminded me of my own days watching baseball (a sport that is equally boring to people that don’t understand its nuance, also it’s pretty boring even for a fan like me).
And I was once again struck by the realisation that stopped me from watching, that my team couldn’t win everything all the time. But I knew that. What was more frustrating is that my team couldn’t be respectable every time. And it’s true with most teams in most sports.
And don’t doubt the effects that watching sports can have on a person. After watching your team win you can have a rush of testosterone which affects aggressive and dominant behaviour. This is used to explain why after a team wins a championship sometimes people riot – out of happiness. But then again, when a team loses a championship, people riot – out of anger. Which is weird.
Take for instance the riots after ice hockey Vancouver Canucks lost the Stanley Cup in 2011: Angry fans went out into their own town of Vancouver and trashed it. Because nothing sticks it to the team that beat your team like trashing your own city. Take that.
But watching your fav team win can also involve a release of dopamine in the brain, which of course causes pleasure and is the same chemical released when you eat food, have sex, and take drugs.
So if watching your favourite team win feels awesome what about when they lose?
Well, as my Portuguese friend found out, it’s pretty crappy.
When your favourite team loses the opposite can happen resulting in “seclusion, decreased work productivity, or less desire to engage in relationships”.
And that’s pretty much how I used to take the loses of my favourite baseball team when they lost. I’d wake up at seven in the morning to watch a three-hour game (yes, three hours of pain if they lose, but it’s all worth it if they win!) and if my team lost, it’d be a pretty cruddy start to the day.
If watching sports is such an emotional roller coaster, why do we do it?
Of course, there are the obvious reasons.
We’re fans of the sport. We’re fans of the team. We love to escape and immerse ourselves in a competition outside of ourselves for a short time (or in baseball’s case, a loooong time).
But there’s another reason we watch sports and get attached to a team very easily.
It’s ingrained in us.
Humans are nothing if not animals that harnessed the Internet to socialise, meaning we’re all subject to the whims of our genes. And our genes tell us to belong.
Belong to a group, to a religion, to a community, to a team, and if you’re not good enough to be on that team, well, you can cheer for it and act like what happens to them really affects you outside of a subjective emotional level.
Never doubt the power of being a fan. Research has shown that for fans being identified with “a favourite team is more important than being identified with their work and social groups, and is as or more important to them as being identified with their religion”.
Belonging to a group that supports a specific team can be a strong point of identity for an individual. It brings across strong feelings of belonging. These feelings can make people overlook their favourite players committing acts of violence and abuse and just generally being d***heads, as we look the other way to cheer on our teams.
Does this mean we shouldn’t enjoy supporting a favourite team and coming together as a community? Of course not, it just means we probably can’t help but come together to enjoy our favourite team with our friends. And let’s be honest, if watching sports was just to see our favourite teams win we’d all be disappointed 99% of the time, so bringing people together is a better excuse.