Looking the part for sporting success

Success at this Summer’s Olympic and Paralympic games may be determined by the first impressions created by the competing athletes. (Photo of Louis Smith, Team GB Gymnast. Photo credit: Adidas)

The difference between success and failure in elite sport is so small that even the most fleeting of impressions created by athletes can influence their own performance as well as that of their opponents and the officials.

Research suggests that what athletes wear and how they behave during preparation for an event can be especially powerful in creating first impressions and expectations that are likely to give them a competitive advantage. 

For example, a study of male tennis players reported that they did not feel confident about beating an opponent who wore tennis-specific clothing and displayed positive body language during a pre-match warm-up. 

With self-belief often shown to be a commodity associated with success, athletes might use elements such as a carefully-considered wardrobe to give themselves that extra edge over their fellow competitors.

People who officiate top level sport are also susceptible to the impacts of first impressions.  Research in football, gymnastics and figure-skating has shown that decisions made by judges (e.g., awarding scores and ratings) and referees (e.g., penalising athletes) can be influenced by the athlete’s reputation. 

With this in mind, promoting a positive reputation through wider engagement with the media might be a useful strategy for athletes to employ. It's no wonder that so much care has gone into the designs of the Team GB performance kit.

For more news and features during the Olympics and Paralympics visit our Going for Gold website.

Once there you can take part in our online experiment, which gives you the chance to walk the path of a judoko preparing for a judo bout.