When I met Diederik (owner of Cádomotus) last summer, we were discussing the sport psychology behind the ice-skaters’ and inliners’ choice for material. Cádo Motus has a lot of color combinations of equipment available. It’s even possible to order a colored helmet shield or design your own helmet appearance, to complete your outfit. Are you aware of the colors you wear during your performances? Are you aware of the clothing choices of your opponent? The color of the suits in skating are mostly determined by the designer of the team and the main focus is to stay in line with the colors of the main sponsor. However, what can we do with the background knowledge about colors?
Can we win the race even before the starting pistol has been fired, by impressing our opponents with our colored suit?
An interesting topic!
During our study, me and my research buddy helped analysing data for dr. van der Kamp (Vrije Universiteit van Amsterdam). Van der Kamp does research on attention and motor learning. We analysed data of the players’ perception of the goalkeeper. The goalkeepers wore different uniform colors (red, blue and black). In this article I’ll present a little summary of what I’ve read and found about color.
Red The symbolisation of colors are different between countries and eras. The ancient Egypt, used the color red to symbolise living, winning, parties, anger, and fire. We know red as a warm, activating, and stimulating color. In clothing, a striking color for singles who would like to be noticed. Red makes your appearance dynamic, positive, and convincing (Causse, 2014). The winning look is of course what we strive for in our sport performances.
But what has science learned us about the influence of color on performance? My research buddy and I had to do a lot of literature research for our study assignment. We found that the perception of the color red, prior to an important test (e.g. an IQ test), impairs performance without the participants being conscious of it (Elliot, Maier, Moller, Friedman & Meinhardt, 2007).
In relation to sports, the few studies we found were about the influence of the color red. It seems that red is indeed the color of winning! For example, Atrill, Gresty, Hill & Barton (2008) found better performances of red teams in English soccer over a 55-year period. Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal, all playing in red uniforms, have won 39 of the 69 titles in England.
We also found an article of Hill and Barton (2005). During the 2004 Olympic Games, contestants in four combat sports (boxing, tae kwon do, Greco-Roman wrestling and freestyle wrestling) were randomly assigned to red or blue outfits (or body protectors). The researchers found in all four competitions a consistent and statistically significant pattern: contestants wearing red winning more fights. This pattern was steady across rounds in each competition and across the weight classes. These results counted only for individuals having quite equal skills, and equal opponents. When similarity in skills declined and one player was clearly better than the other one, this advantage disappeared.
Hill and Barton (in Greenlees et al., 2008) suggested that individuals wearing red will be perceived by opponents as being more dominant, aggressive, and threatening than individuals wearing other colors. In our literature study we found the study of Greenlees, Leyland, Thelwell and Filby (2008). These authors revealed that penalty takers wearing red, were perceived to possess positive characteristics to a greater extent than those wearing white. This influence of uniform color was only found in combination with gaze behavior. When players displayed less gaze behavior, keepers had higher expectations of stopping the penalty. In the combination displaying less gaze and players wearing white uniforms, the keeper had the highest expectancy of success in comparison with all other combinations.
In line with these studies, me and my research buddy found that goalkeepers in the position arms up and color red uniforms, were significantly perceived as more impressive by the soccer participants.
Blue was known as the symbol of the sky and of water by the ancient Egypt. Causse (2014) stated that blue is known as a symbolisation of freedom, feeling of fulfilment, and harmony with the world around us. When instinctive chosen in clothing, blue shows self-acceptance, harmony, confidence, and a bit of rebellion.
Me and my research buddy did not find many literature about the effect of wearing blue in the sports field. However, in line with the interpretation of blue by Causse (2014), we did find that blue uniformed keepers were perceived as the most friendly keepers, this was the case when they held their arms up.
Black is used often as a symbolisation of death. Nevertheless, all women know that a little black dress in their wardrobe is worth a fortune. The color can be combined with many other colors and can be used in many settings. Black can be interpreted as classy and luxurious, which might be helpful in business settings. The color also represents shyness and introversion.
Related to sports, Frank and Gilovich (1988) discovered that wearing black uniforms in soccer was related to more punishments by the referees. In our own data study of keepers, we found that black uniforms were significantly perceived smaller by the participants. We also found that the black uniform, combined with the arms down position, was perceived as most aggressive by the participants. This finding was contradicting with the suggestions of Hill and Barton, mentioned earlier, with red as the aggressive color.
Green was symbolised with a new life. This color is known as calming, lowering the blood pressure, and shows balance. In clothing, a small detail of green can help you win the confidence of your partner in a discussion (Causse, 2014). This interpretation might be useful during a breakout, when you have to work together with the opponent to get ahead in the race. Hopefully without the discussion part.
All buy the red suit
In conclusion, now we all go for the red suit and red material. No problems with referees, supported by the studies about black clothing in sport performances. Of course we know, that we need more to win the race. But it might be nice to rethink your color choice. Is it in your scenario smart to appear as the winner and thus dominant person at the field? Or does this give more pressure in performing, because your opponents put you in that leading position and expect you to take initiative?
Next to the symbolisation of color, sport psychology research reminds us not to forget the environment in this topic. For example, Causse (2014) stated that in billiards the table is green to calm down the players. Also in the peloton it can be a tactic to kick some ass as the underdog. I found that grey is perceived as the most non-color, so that might be helpful to know. Though, as an experienced marathon ice-skater, I really hated my opponent wearing her white suit with the very snowy conditions in Sweden. It got me really nervous when I couldn’t find her in the peloton.
According to the research I’ve read about color in sport performances, we can conclude there’s enough evidence that body language and clothing of the athlete can influence (a) the way in which you are perceived by your opponent, and (b) about what your expectance is of the success of your opponent (Greenlees et al., 2008). As a former student I must attend you not to generalise all research findings to ice skating and inlining, without doing further research. However, as a sport psychologist, I like to stimulate you to think about your performance behavior. Are you feeling comfortable in your suit and do you appear confident? Why are you impressed by your opponent? Maybe this background knowledge might be helpful to choose your Cádo Motus equipment with a better feeling and you feel more secure in your performance on the road or on the ice.
About the author
Kim Muusse is a sports psychologist who, after finishing her study at the VSPN (Vereniging voor SportPyschologie Nederland), started her own practice MaxiMental in 2013. She has a background in Psychology and Human Movement Sciences. Kim coaches people who would like to improve their performances in sports or at work. She combines her profession with her own sports career as a marathon ice skater in the highest division in the Netherlands. Number 53 achieved different podium stages and starts her thirteenth skating season in her new team: ‘Schaatsteam KOGA’.
Atrill, M.J., Gresty, R.A. Hill, A.H. & Barton, R.A.(2008). Red Shirt Colour is associated with Long-term Team Success in English Football. Journal of Sports Sciences, 26(6): 577-582.
Causse, J. (2014). De verbazingwekkende invloed van Kleuren. Kosmos Uitgevers, Utrecht/Antwerpen.
Elliot, A.J., Maier., M.A., Moller, A.C., Friedman, R. & Meinhardt, J. (2007). Color and psychological functioning: the Effect of Red on Performance Attainment. Journal of experimental psychology, Vol. 136, 1, 154-168.
Frank, M.G. & Gilovich, T. (1988). The dark Side of Self- and Social Perception: Black Uniforms and Aggression in professional Sports. Journal of personal social psychology, 54, 74-85.
Greenlees, I., Leyland, A., Thelwell, R. & Filby, W. (2008). Soccer Penalty takers’ Uniform Colour and Pre- Penalty Kick Gaze affect the Impressions formed of them by opposing Goalkeepers. Journal of Sport Sciences, 26(6): 569-576.
Hill, R.A. & Barton, R.A. (2005). Red enhances Human Performance in Contests. Signals biologically attributed to Red Coloration in Males may operate in the Arena of Combat Sports. Nature, Vol. 435, 293.