Soccer: Celebrate scoring or pay the penalty

By Heather McCracken

The wild dancing, bum pats and body pile-ups seen during goal celebrations at the football World Cup may seem a bit over the top to Kiwi sports fans.

But researchers have found that the teams with the most exuberant celebrations were more likely to win - and could be a lesson for our reserved rugby players.

Sports scientists studied goal celebrations during penalty shoot-outs.

Their findings, published in the Journal of Sports Science, showed teams whose players openly expressed their joy at scoring were more likely to win the shoot-out overall.

"The more convincingly someone celebrates their success with their teammates, the greater the chances that team will win," said Dr Gert-Jan Pepping, sports scientist from the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands.

Pepping said the enthusiastic behaviour infected the rest of the team with positive attitude.

"Also important, the opposing team was made to feel that bit more insecure," he said.

In particular, if a player celebrated by gesturing with both arms, rather than one, the following kicker from the other team was twice as likely to miss.

Players who looked down after scoring were more likely to be on the losing team.

The researchers said other studies have shown the same effect, called "emotional contagion," also holds true in sports including cricket and handball.

Victoria University psychology lecturer Marc Wilson saw plenty for Kiwi sportspeople to take from the work.

"There are times in other sporting contests that suggest visible shows of group-based celebration have an ongoing benefit," he said.

He said Winston Reid's taking his shirt off to celebrate his tournament-defining goal against Slovakia "definitely didn't harm morale".

But Wilson said different sports had different unwritten rules - "for example, bum-patting and kissing might be more acceptable in soccer than rugby."

Sports psychologist and mental performance coach Gary Hermansson was more cautious, saying teams with stronger inner belief may celebrate more enthusiastically anyway.

Hermansson said he'd hesitate to encourage rugby try-scorers to milk the moment, as they could become self-conscious.

He'd rather work on building confidence and managing emotions, "and you might find that celebrations will be more naturally exuberant anyway".

- Herald on Sunday

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