The Home Advantage

The home advantage. It’s a known fact. Ask any sporting enthusiast and you will find that a team is more likely to win when playing a home game than when playing away. While the extent of this advantage changes depending on the sport and the time period, it is a generally consistent phenomena.

But what causes this? Is it that teams playing at home know the sports ground better? Have a greater audience support base? Are less nervous?

Given that most playing fields should be identical, no matter the location, familiarity should not matter. But to some extent it does. This could be due to differences in uniform at home (and thus recognition of team members), acclimatisation to home weather conditions or familiarity with the ground itself.

One study of teams forced to change stadium (but not city) showed a 24% reduction in the home game advantage. This would argue against clothing and acclimatisation benefits. Similarly this would suggest it is more than just home crowd support. Perhaps it is just the players needing a split second to re-orient themselves during the game, thus reducing performance.

But that still leaves a good proportion of the advantage. This may be due to differences in the team members themselves, and thus the way they play the game. But are these differences related to attitude, confidence or biochemistry?

One possible factor could be territorialism. Team performance could reflect years of evolution encouraging players to “protect” their home ground. Combined with the location of the support base, team members may have a higher drive to succeed at home.

So what is different about a player at a “home” and at an “away” game?

Studies show that team members are more psychologically confident at home. But perhaps this merely reflects a knowledge of statistics – if you know you are more likely to win at home, you are probably more confident.Testosterone appears to be higher in team members before a home game than before an away match. Yet this doesn’t necessarily lead to more aggressive play. In fact in both soccer and rugby, aggressive play appears to be greater (and more likely to lead to defeat) for away teams. Could it be that players are more careful at home?

Travel stress can be partially to blame, particularly across time zones. An exhausted player is less likely to perform well.

More insidiously, it is possible that high audience support for the home team actualy psychologically influences referees to make decisions which favour the home team?

What ever the cause (or more likely, the multiple intersecting causes) , in most sports, the home team is the better bet.

References

Carre J, Muir C, Belanger J, Putnam SK. (2006) Pre-competition hormonal and psychological levels of elite hockey players: relationship to the “home advantage”. Physiol Behav. 89(3):392-8.Jones MV, Bray SR, Olivier S. (2005) Game location and aggression in rugby league. J Sports Sci. 23(4):387-93.

Neave N, Wolfson S (2003) Testosterone, territoriality, and the ‘home advantage’. PhysiolBehav. 78(2):269-75.

Nevill AM, Holder RL. (1999) Home advantage in sport: an overview of studies on the advantage of playing at home. Sports Med.;28(4):221-36.

Pollard, R (2006) Worldwide regional variations in home advantage in association football. J Sports Sci.;24(3):231-40.

Pollard R, Pollard G. (2005)  Long-term trends in home advantage in professional team sports in North America and England (1876-2003). J Sports Sci. 23(4):337-50.

Pollard R (2002) Evidence of a reduced home advantage when a team moves to a new stadium. J Sports Sci.; 20(12):969-73.

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1 Comment

Filed under Curious Science, Science

One response to “The Home Advantage

  1. As always, interested well referenced post.
    My guess is that territoriality is the major influence. This tendency also shows up in humanity’s most serious organized team sport, warfare. It’s considerably easier to motivate people to fight to defend their homes than it is to persuade them to go steal someone else’s home. This is a big part of the reason why so much modern war propaganda serves to define even the most aggressive of wars as somehow “defending the homeland” in nature.

    JMO —Doug

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