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The Psychological Watchdog of Footballers

The Psychological Watchdog of Footballers

Where is Romanian football heading towards? Well, for a beginning, literally speaking, it might head towards the back of the net, which would be wonderful piece of news for the goal scoring team. The not so bright answer would come if the question was considered as a metaphor, not as a real ball-playing skill of any given footballer. Irrespective of where a ball is really heading – in or outside the goal, in the stands, outside the stadium even, as witnessed in many small, murky stadiums of lower league competitions – one thing is certain: Romanian football fans don’t really seem to be heading towards there where one would expect them to see: to the stadiums.

The loss of fans is nothing really that new. It has been argued every now and then over the past years. Except of some matches played in several of the recently-built arenas in the country (Craiova, Arena Nationala, Cluj), most of the games are rather fanless, with some hundreds of fans in the stands. And these are the standards of the first division. In the lower leagues, some clubs are used to playing their games in front of 50, 70, 100, or 200 people (paradoxically enough, though, some of the lower league clubs are better visited at games than their upper division colleagues, mainly thanks to a better connected local community). Yet, with such numbers, a bunch of key aspects are left out of the game. First of all, a ball game (be that football, basketball, handball, volleyball, rugby) is not truly a game without people seating or standing on the terraces to watch it. Romanian sports attendances are ridiculed to such an extent that one might risk to find more people watching a bunch of kids playing friendly ball on the streets or in their backyards. But that is just playing for the fun of it, no stakes at all. Professional sports are characterized by some stakes which the teams compete for. And by fans. If somebody simply wants to watch a game, he or she can do so by looking at the kids on the streets. But stadium-goers are the people who expect more. They want to see some sporting entertainment and also enjoy the atmosphere created at the stadium by the other fans. Just that the atmosphere of domestic soccer disappears, which is a backdrop for footballers as well: it must be embarrassing to have worked so many years to become a professional footballer, just in order to play in the first division in front of a handful of people. Athletes would love to have atmosphere at their games, to be watched live by thousands of people. What motivation should one athlete have is nobody is watching him or her? Why do the job? Why play if nobody can enjoy the live performance that is being produced?

How can footballers be motivated to play their best game if nobody watches? Having fans attending a game also represents a stake for players. Footballers are motivated to give their best on the field because of the fear of embarrassment. Fans attending games are like a psychological watchdog of footballers. Knowing that thousands of people are there in the stands scrutinizing each of their moves, footballers will feel psychological discomfort: they will know that fans will also know to recognize when one of their favorites is underperforming. Or, you don’t want to underperform in front of your fans, else a chorus of cursing and boos might be following. But what psychological threat should there exist if no one watches? Players are at their ease. They can miss, they can head outside the net: nobody really cares. And if nobody cares, especially footballers, where should the quality of the game come from?

So, if fans want better football, they should start searching it by going to the games. It is only like this that footballers can feel fear and joy altogether. Fear of underperforming, which motivates them to play better. And joy of feeling like real footballers, able to perform in front of masses of people. This is something that professional sportsmen enjoy, it is the nature of their job, they adore being watched by fans. Which, once again, urges them to give the best that they can. Head to the stadiums, fans!

 
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OEconomica No. 1, 2016