While some simply don’t understand how sports fans can love a specific team with such intensity, their fellow die-hards get it — there’s nothing quite like game day. Various studies have shown that being a devoted sports fan often comes with surprising mental health benefits.
From increased self-esteem to overall life fulfillment to improved familial relationships, Stephen Troese Jr. explains that sports lovers take advantage of the positivity for their team, the excitement for games, the buzzing atmosphere, and the overall camaraderie of the sport.
Fan Commitment Occurs in Three Different Ways
Whether they’re off-season or at a game, sports fans talk avidly about their favorite team, club, or group. They’re committed, consistent, and loyal. This commitment generally occurs subconcsciously in three separate ways, allowing fans to reap the mental health rewards:
- Cognitive commitment occurs when a fan learns more about the fundamentals of the sport and their team.
- Attitude commitment is the firm belief in their club or team.
- Behavioral commitment is when they show their team support, regardless of their rankings. They’ll buy tickets and merchandise to show their loyalty no matter what.
When looking out over the stands, it may be hard to distinguish diehard fans from average spectators. In reality, the subconscious differences above are what allow the passionate fans to reap the mental health rewards that standard spectators don’t benefit from.
The Mental Health Benefits of Being a Diehard Sports Fan
The mental health benefits garnered by sports fans include some, if not all, of the following:
- Escapism — Cheering on teams gives fans a chance to escape their daily work and life stresses. Research shows that the further away the game is from their house, the larger the chance of benefitting from escapism.
- Self-esteem — When their teams are successful, diehard fans’ self-esteem increases due to their emotional connection with fellow devotees and the teams themselves. Since they see their teams as extensions of their own beings, high-performing teams offer sources of identity.
- Strengthening bonds — Families who watch games together strengthen their bonds by allowing them to spend quality time together. Plus, it promotes loyalty within the family for the sport and/or team.
- Entertainment — People are entertained not just by the game itself, but by the sounds and specific colors offered by sports-related events as well.
- Eustress — When watching competitions, fans experience both pleasure and anxiety. These feelings create dopamine and adrenaline in the body, which promotes positive stress, or eustress. Fans often experience positive emotions after the game as well, contributing to fan loyalty and overall mental health.
- Affiliation — Watching a game surrounded by diehard fans promotes a cultural connection and sense of belonging, resulting in a feeling of identity and togetherness. Some people may derive satisfaction and life meaning from supporting their team around other fans.
Team Identification and Imagined Interactions
Research has concluded that all-or-nothing sports fans are better able to think about conflict, prepare for bad situations, maintain relationships, and let go of negative stress in positive ways.
While there may be many other reasons for this evidence, scientists suggest that imagined interactions and identification with a sports team are the most relevant by far.