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Thrive to survive: Love and hate between athletes and fans

As athletes play in their respective sports—on the squeaky hardwood courts of basketball, dirt-filled baseball fields, sweat-layered boxing rings, and grassy football pitches—there exists a common narrative that watches all of them: the fans. They are the backbone of sports teams and athletes alike as their role is to support and cheer who they follow. The players, the management, and the team depend on their fanbase not only for moral support but also for funding as many fans spend their money on watching their team’s games and buying merchandise to represent who they root for.

Aside from the constant cheers the fans express from spectating their sports teams, they also often get into conflicts with other fanbases and even other athletes due to contradicting opinions and emotionally-driven claims. With the rise of social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, the engagement of the fans with the sports and athletes has massively evolved into a stage where they can openly communicate with sports teams, expressing both praise  and criticism. This, in turn, strongly magnifies how the actions of a fanbase in participating in sports discussions and peer socialization affect a player’s mentality and overall game performance.

The fan culture in sports is a double-edged sword. For the most part, it is because of the fans that athletes play with upstanding confidence; however, it may also be the key to an athlete’s downfall when it comes to backlash and criticism. It all boils down to how these fanbases give their support to the teams as their players identify it as something to play for and look forward to. Athletes are not perfect idols as some fans perceive them to be—they are humans too that are susceptible to error and inconsistencies. The effect that fan bases have on sports is often not seriously taken note of, but it can affect a player or even an entire team’s attitude towards the game.

Not good enough

Never do the words “easier said than done” ring more true than in the world of sports fandom. As fans, we all love to talk about what the players should have done in this situation, or say that the coaches need to take the team in that direction. As sports fans we all have our strong opinions, and we all want to see our team win. But more than that, we know how much it hurts to see them lose. 

Hatred and love are both fueled by passion, and the world of sports has passion in abundance. When fans choose a club to support, they feel they are a part of something bigger. There is such a strong attachment between the fans and their teams or clubs, and at the end of the day that is where their loyalty lies. Players come and go, but the club remains forever. 

Players and sports franchises always say that the fans are what make the game, and we are seeing that more than ever, now that fans cannot physically show their support from the stands. It is a beautiful sight to see thousands of fans dressed in the club’s kit, signing the songs of their legendary players on the way to the stadium. Thousands cheer when their team is on top, but as beautiful as this sight is, the opposite scenario becomes bitter and ugly, with jeers and boos from the crowd sometimes turning into verbal abuse.

There is an obsession with winning in sports fandom; everyone believes that their team is the greatest one the world has ever seen. Because of the love for their teams, the supporters set their expectations so high that sometimes we forget that the players are human too. 

And sometimes the worst battering comes from the fans of the team that the athlete actually plays for. In an interview, football player Gareth Bale opened up on his time with Real Madrid, detailing how he was whistled by 80,000 of his own fans because he wasn’t playing well, and he went on to say that it hurts a player’s confidence, making him play even worse. 

Now, more than ever, fans have been given a platform to voice out and release all their emotions and opinions on their favorite—or even most hated—athletes and teams through the power of social media. Essentially allowing the whole world to scrutinize the players, the online platform amplifies the effects of being battered by fans.

For many sports fans, it can be difficult to keep one’s emotions in check, watching one’s favorite team lose or not play up to par, but at the end of the day, we are supporters, and we should lift the players up, not bring them down. We have to remember that these individuals might be uber talented, and are paid millions to win games, but they are people too. They will make mistakes, play through ups and downs, and lose matches. When all is said and done, every competitor will leave everything they have out on the field, and as fans that should be enough for us to applaud.

The impact 

The intensity that sports fans exhibit in support of their teams and athletes is unparalleled, and it is an intensity that continues to persist and find its way to the forefront of the sports world. Even with their pressuring expectations and their criticisms, fans are still an integral part of sports competitions.

In 2008, The Sport Journal released a research paper by Kyle Ott and Marieke Van Puymbroeck, discussing how the media can impact athletic performance, and it highlighted that destructive criticism toward athletes can potentially lead to negative outcomes, particularly in terms of the mentality of athletes. It turns out that negativity and harsh comments can sometimes lead athletes to experience increased anger, depressed moods, and heightened anxiety and stress levels, which could, in turn, affect their athletic performances negatively. 

In contrast to these possible negative effects, the media could also play a motivational role for athletes. Rather than succumbing, some athletes can actually thrive under heavy pressure brought upon by media and fans—fueled by a desire to live up to high expectations and to prove the naysayers wrong. Sports psychologists can also further help athletes deal with these external sources of pressure. Overall, this has shown that there are two ways athletes can deal with the challenges they face from fans and the media: they can either fall victim to the pressure, or feed off it. 

But we are now faced with another question: who thrives and who doesn’t? It is difficult to tell, and often, it might only be determined after the balls have already been thrown. Ultimately, athletes and fans will always have a love-hate relationship, stemming from both fans wanting the best, and athletes wanting to be the best. And perhaps, no matter what the fans and the media might throw, the strongest athletes will always find their way to the top.

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