Playing Without Fans

This football season will be like none other. Even if there is a football season, there will likely be no fans in attendance, for both college football and the NFL. And even if fans are allowed to attend, it'll definitely be in way lower capacities than normal.

How will this affect performance on the field? There are many teams that are used to playing in packed stadiums, either at home or on the road. When they play their first game with no fans, it'll feel very different. Many athletes say they feel a rush of adrenaline once they run out onto the field and see and hear thousands of fans cheering. It's an experience that is hard to explain. Most people have never experienced such an adrenaline rush. Many athletes rely on this adrenaline rush to motivate them to give their best effort. This is especially needed in a very physical and emotional game such as football.

Does this mean we'll see a noticeable decrease in effort this football season? Not necessarily. While fans can provide great motivation for athletes, it is not their only source of motivation. Most athletes practice without fans in attendance, and they still give great effort. This is because they are motivated for many reasons, not just for one reason. This year, athletes will have to make up for the lost motivation provided by fans. To do this, they'll have to rely more on their intrinsic motivation. Without fans cheering them on, they'll have to be more self-motivated and decide to play more for the love of the game. And of course they can still play for their individual and team goals. The key thing is for athletes to become aware of their motivation level in games and take personal responsibility for their mindset. They can't use the lack of fans as an excuse and say it makes the game too boring. They need to find ways to keep the game fun and exciting. Without fans, athletes will need to rely on each other to pump each other up. The athletes on the sidelines will be crucial. Perhaps the deciding factor in many games this year will be which team has the higher energy sideline.

However, motivation is just one factor that fans influence. They also influence games by distracting the opposing team. Without road teams having to deal with loud crowd noises, home field advantage will be less of a factor. Road teams will be able to focus and execute better than in past years. Therefore, road underdogs should enter games with more confidence, and home favorites should brace for a challenge and not use their home field "advantage" as a crutch.

As I've written before, one of the main factors of home field advantage is the crowd's effect on the referees. Without being influenced by the fans, the referees will be slightly more objective and fairer than normal, which should give the road team more confidence.

It'll be interesting to see whether playing without fans actually improves performance of both teams by reducing pressure. Without fans in attendance, perhaps players will worry less about disappointing their fans and will feel less pressure as a result. Road teams may also feel less pressure since they won't have to worry about heckling fans trying to embarrass them after they make mistakes. Teams will have to try to take advantage of this and attempt to play looser and more aggressive.

Since we've never seen a college football or NFL season played without fans, it's hard to tell what will happen. Maybe it'll make a big difference, maybe it won't. Maybe it'll make a big difference at first, then athletes will get used to it. Or maybe it won't make a big difference at first, then it will later in the season. We'll have to wait and see. But in the meantime, athletes and coaches will need to prepare for this and think about how they can adapt and maintain peak performance without fans this season.