Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Loud Roar of the Silent Crowd





Serena Williams, Melanie Oudin,Venus Williams, Roger Federer
Could They Do It Without Us? (No!)
“Thanks, you guys have been great all week. I couldn’t have done it without you. Thanks for all your support.”

How many times have you heard Serena Williams, Roger Federer and so many other tournament champions express their gratitude in the trophy ceremonies to fans in packed houses around the world? They do it not only at the majors in New York, London, Paris, and Melbourne, but also at tier one events in Dubai, Indian Wells, Toronto, Miami, and many others. It’s the first thing they say. In a recent example, here’s what Venus Williams said after she won the Billie Jean King Cup (March 2) at New York’s Madison Square Garden:

“There was definitely a real connection…,” said Williams, who defeated Kim Clijsters, 6-4 3-6 7-5. “They were just rooting me on and it felt great. That’s the most fun I had in front of a crowd anywhere. It’s nice to see how much it means to them having tennis at the Garden.”

But have you ever heard the invisible silent crowd? Wha’? A silent crowd? Yeah, the global crowd of millions who are watching their favorite players on television, or just thinking about matches regardless of whatever else they might be doing. If you haven’t heard them, you just may have seen their influence–a win for the player with the most fans the world over. (Yeah, right!)

Most athletes, and certainly World Tour tennis players, have benefitted not only from the roar of the crowd in the stands, but perhaps also from the unseen power of positive group thinking. You see, I believe that the universe rules in the world of sports, and that includes professional tennis. It’s been said by the Zen and karma crowd that when a person puts out a vibe or certain type of energy it can and will be picked up by everyone! But how about when everyone throws positive vibes or collective energy toward one player in particular? I believe that a person’s positive thoughts are being felt by others all the time, whether you realize it or not. Is there an indirect fan impact on athletic performance? Say fans all over the world want Justine Henin to win Wimbledon- a trophy she cannot yet claim as hers. Assuming she is healthy and can play, will a Wimbledon trophy continue to elude her- or can the fan universe put her in play? Did the weight of tennis universe want Clijsters to win the US Open?

Let’s put it on a personal level. While playing a match, have you ever upped your game when people show up to watch? They may be watching your match while waiting for another to begin. And I don’t mean friends and relatives, who often make people nervous, a subject that continues to fascinate both players and sports psychologists and scholars, for understandable reasons. But what about strangers who have no relationship to you whatsoever? Suddenly your serves are faster and harder, you move faster, you make incredible shots. Yeah, you’re showing off—so what. If it helps you to have more fun and to win, good for you.

By the same token, in pro tennis it’s rare that the winner of a match doesn’t thank the fans in the stands for their support. That’s not hard to understand. There is a lot to be said for having a large group of people cheering you on and helping you out with positive energy... So, perhaps there is support in another dimension that can influence player performance. It is my theory that that millions of people around the world watching and rooting for a Roger Federer, a Serena Williams, or even a lower ranked player, can create an unconscious positive energy that somehow reaches those players and helps them along--similar to a different stratum of reality, as conceived by the late Carl Jung, founder of analytical psychology. So this is not your standard Dale Carnegie power of positive thinking stuff. What I’m talking about is the possibility of a Jungian twilight zone of fan influence on the mortal affairs of the top tennis players.


Take the example of Melanie Oudin, who mowed down three top ten players to reach the quarterfinals of the 2009 US Open. No doubt, the American crowd helped pull her along. But, on some dimension did it also matter that millions of us were rooting for her from our rec rooms? In subsequent tournaments, however, where she hasn’t done nearly as well, did fans substitute expectations or a “wait and see attitude” for a vigorous root ‘n toot energy? Similarly, picture football fans jumping up and down at home, as well as in the stands, yelling and whooping loudly when “their” team scores. (Perhaps you are one of these. I’m not; I save my energy for tennis.) Another example: In the 2009 baseball World Series, were more people at home in New York, and even around the country rooting for the victorious Yankees than for the loser Phillies—and could that actually have influenced the outcome? Let’s ponder this: Was that in play when Kim Clijsters-- the sentimental favorite as the comeback mom-- won one more game on her way to an unlikely US Open victory? In other words, it may just be possible that players at the top, like Roger Federer and Serena Williams get a boost and stay at the top because millions of fans around the world are rooting for them. Granted, this may be a quandary worthy of Jung.


Who is a fan and what defines one? A review of a scholarly study of fan support at small college athletic events, which appears in The Sport Journal of the United States Sports Academy, may prove illuminating. According to this study,”… most true fans attend sporting events because of some deep involvement in what the authors describe as ‘the almost religious rituals’ one sometimes associates with the sporting event itself. While there are many ways of developing an interest in a sport, one of the principal methods of developing deep knowledge of a sport is through participation, either as a player or as a spectator. “

Religious rituals? Although clearly I am given to flights of fancy, that’s even more intensity than even I can imagine. What’s even more interesting is this conclusion from a study of hockey fans (released in 2009 by Canada’s Laurentian University's Institute for Sport Marketing). This study confirms what every die-hard sports fan instinctively believes:
“Cheering on a hockey or any other team does have an impact on a player's performance and in combination with other factors, can help influence the outcome of even the most nail-biting of games.

"…When we examined 33 possible variables affecting players during a game,” the study says, “We found that while obvious factors like coaching, mental training, high performance support, and physical preparedness are paramount to all athletes for optimum performance, cheering can also impact the on-ice performance of our elite national women's ice hockey team and other high performance players surveyed…These results confirm what fans have believed all along - that crowd support is an integral part of competition and has the ability to play a supporting role in changing the outcome of a game."

The theory goes a step further in another study (reviewed in Qualitative Report, 1997) that differentiates fans from spectators. One of its conclusions states that “whereas a spectator of sport will observe a spectacle and forget it very quickly, the fan continues his interest until the intensity of feeling toward the team becomes so great that parts of every day are devoted to either his team or in some instances, to the broad realm of the sport itself.” And yet another study states: “It seems reasonable to suggest…that fandom comprises more than simply attending and observing a sporting event.” Rather, being a fan "represents an association from which the individual derives considerable emotional and value significance"

With so much evidence regarding in-house, real-time fan support, let’s raise it to a higher level. Can “fandom” occupy another larger, yet invisible, and as yet unexplained dimension, that also is a factor that can influence who wins and who loses a tennis match? I believe that it does. Okay, call me a loon. Although I am about as middle class and conventional as any club player, perhaps over these many years, watching tennis and rooting for my favorites (and the influence of my husband Gary) has made me a happy “victim” -- right here in the Open Era of the 21st century --of the New Age philosophy rooted in the 1960s and ‘70s. Maybe I should find a Jung disciple for some intensive therapy--along with a good tennis instructor. Even so, please root for me this spring when I start to play again. I’m not generally a winner, but I’ll report back at the end of the season to let you know whether I might have been a beneficiary of a silent crowd (which I hope are my readers). Oh well, these are just some musings as I gear up for The French Open, which doesn’t begin until May 23.

According to my view, you might also make a difference. Start now to root for your favorite players and begin to build the global energy of fandom. Once again I’ll be rooting Serena Williams and Roger Federer. Given their success so far, especially in the majors, those of us in the “silent” universe of tennis seem to have been doing pretty well on that score.

1 comment:

Goldilox(R) said...

Even if you have not been reading Freud and Jung, your psychoanalytic hypotheses applied to group psychology and phenomena are right on! You are NOT a loon. Keep up the great work, Jeanius. It's about time someone who KNOWS tennis applied in-depth analytic thinking to tennis!

Love,
Dr. Judy Jay