A psychological need for acceptance may be the real reason you’re a Pats fan.

By Christiana Van Bree

“As a fan, you will feel actual joy or actual pain in relation to events that really don’t affect your life at all,” Thomas Van Shulk said in his article on the psychology of sports.

People like to belong. They seek the enduring acceptance of others to disdain from loneliness. Whether it be a religion, a nationality or a fraternity, people strive to be included in a group, sharing at least one commonality. Sports teams attract many fans, combining people of all different backgrounds to support one common idea: victory for their team.

A person first becomes a sports fan when he or she develops the skill of concrete optional thinking, around age 8. According to a psychological dissertation by Dr. Jeffrey James, a child’s family and friends, along with the media, are the first influences on the child’s perspective. This impacts the child’s support for a certain team in a sport they begin to favor. As the child grows up, they consider the team part of their identity. 
While a sports team can define a fan, the fans can define their sports teams. If a person, for example, is a die-hard New England Patriots fan, they probably have some connection with New England, have friends that support the Pats, or have chosen the team is superior to all other teams. The person will cheer for the Pats every time they play, whether they watch the game or not. They are against the teams playing the Pats and are very proud if they hear the Pats took home victory. The phenomena at play here is the attachment a fan has for a team, even though the team’s victory has absolutely no physical effect on the fan.
The idea that a person devotes his or her love for to a team they have chosen does not have as much to do with the team as it does with the team’s attributes, referring to the fan’s first reasons they favor a particular team. The pleasure of acceptance a fan receives from fellow fans, according to Van Shulk, is the main reason they support a certain team.
Reversely, a fan does have an effect on a game. Even though a fan cannot physically win for their team, they have a large psychological impact. According to Paul Turman, in his article in the Journal of Sports Behavior, inspirational direction and bragging create a team cohesion by promoting more motivation on a team. The more support and pride athletes have toward their team boosts them to physically work harder. Their fans give them much of this support. A Superbowl victory is just not as amazing without a crowd of cheering, screaming fans.
Players have much support for their team; they are paid to. The fans create the team’s true pride and identity. For example, “Da Bears” is a common phrase used by Chicago Bears fans. This phrase was developed by Chicagoans, whose accents affected it. Players also transfer teams much more than fans do. The team you grew up loving, is usually the team you continue to love throughout your life.

A person’s need to belong creates a fan. The fans upbringing and environment specifies the particular team and the person receives mentally simulating benefits from that team’s victory. While it is clear, the fan can detach him or herself from a team, sports teams cannot detach from fans. After all, it is the fans who define them and help them reach victory.

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