Patrick Reed’s raucous celebrations at last week’s Ryder Cup helped the American win 3 ½ points on his debut, according to new academic research.
In the first study to examine the effect in endurance sport of suppressing emotions, Dr Chris Wagstaff, of the University of Portsmouth, has found strong evidence that burying feelings results in poorer performance.
“Sports people frequently have to control their emotions in the run-up to and during competition, but this appears to significantly reduce the level at which they perform,” said Dr Wagstaff.
"Sportspeople operate in a result driven goldfish bowl, the demands for suppression are particularly high." - Dr Wagstaff
“Their thought processes are diminished, they put in less effort and they feel more tired than when they aren’t asked to hide what they’re feeling.
“We all know the feeling of having to sometimes hide our thoughts and feelings. It can make us feel exhausted, and because sportspeople operate in a result driven goldfish bowl, the demands for suppression are particularly high.”
Researchers studied 20 sportsmen and women. They were asked to watch a three minute video in which a woman throws up and then eats her own vomit. It was chosen to “elicit a strong emotional reaction”, explained Dr Wagstaff.
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In one condition, participants were told to suppress emotions evoked by the video. In a second condition, participants watched the video but were not told to suppress their reaction. In the third condition - the control - participants did not watch the video. All those who took part were tested in all three conditions. All of them then cycled 10km as fast as they could.
Those who had suppressed their feelings when watching the video were measurably less able to think clearly and performed the worst. Those who had to self regulate their emotion, were slower at cycling, generated less power, had a lower heart rate and thought they had worked much harder than they actually had compared to when they were not asked to control their emotions, or when they hadn’t watched the video.
No differences were found between the conditions where participants watched the video without being told to suppress their emotion and where they didn’t watch the video.
Therefore, the passion shown by of the likes of Patrick Reed and Ian Poulter at the Ryder Cup helped them to compete better at Gleneagles. At least that's what science suggests.