Sunday, August 1, 2010


Sports fan around the world have heard the term “Home Court Advantage” or at least one of its variations (“home town advantage”, etc.) from the mouths of the announcers and commentators of their sport of preference at one point or another. It signifies a distinct advantage for an athlete or team of athletes when they play a game (match / fight / or whatever is most applicable) in their home town.


But is this phenomenon really true? Does the extremely positive energy of a hometown crowd really transfer over to an athlete or team of athletes and give them the power to surmount all odds? If you’ve been participating or at least been watching sports for some time, you’ve probably noticed that the answer is sometimes “yes”, sometimes “no”. But is there some hard data to all this? Is the answer actually a resounding “yes, home court advantage does indeed exist”, and that the other times were actual data aberrations of some sort? Or is it the other way around? Is it a 50/50 chance, like if you flip a coin? Or, if it exists, is the ratio actually more one-sided, like 70/30, or even 90/10? Does it exist for all sports?


Studies over the yearshave actually determined that yes, home court advantage does indeed exist, but it’s definitely not absolute. This is because studies have shown that home court advantage gives athletes a positive mental boost only when the event they’re playing at is given lesser importance to others. If the event is of the utmost importance, then home court advantage can actually be turned around and become a true disadvantage. The NBA Finals, for example, could make the athletes playing in their home court more nervous and anxious because they know they have to live up to the hype that has been steadily built around them by the surrounding environment (including the fans, the media, their friends and family, and so on). So, when they get out onto the court, all the cheering from the hometown crowd only serves to remind them of the expectations wanted of them, and depending, on the athlete, he or she might choke under all the pressure.

On the other hand, if the game is, for example, at the beginning of the season, the athlete is more relaxed as there hasn’t been much hype built up yet, and so the energy given off by the crowd only fuels the athlete’s relaxed atmosphere, making him or her play naturally better.


Does it work for all sports, though? Studies have shown that yes, it most probably does, but there is a clear lack of data in this regard. What we do know is how it affects sports of different nature. Sports played in open fields, such as baseball and soccer, for example, are affected less by the hometown crowd than are sports played within enclosed areas, such as basketball and hockey. This is because the hometown cheering is much more apparent in an enclosed space than in an open one, and the crowd’s involvement will thus affect the athletes even more. Sports with a more continuous flow of action, such as, again, basketball and hockey vs. soccer and baseball are also more affected by the hometown crowd because of the equally continuous cheering or boo’s. Gaps in the middle of crowd involvement does have an effect on home court advantage.


But, is all this data still relevant? All the data was gathered throughout the entire history of a certain sport (basketball, baseball, etc), and what this tells us is that a trend may be forming in more recent years where athletes and their coaches are developing more mental strategies than before to combat certain aspects of the game. Sports psychology is still a relatively young field, but it is definitely catching on everywhere. In this respect, while the historical data might give us certain trends for specific sports, it doesn’t mean that the trends will continue that way forever. Modern sports psychology techniques can reverse any and all negative mental aspects of an athlete’s game and turn them all into positive ones, if properly applied.


So, yes, home court advantage does indeed exist. With this in mind, one could have more fun looking at his or her favorite athlete/s and see how mentally prepared they are when playing in their hometown. Will it be a positive or negative for them?

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Hello, I'm Noel Blanco and I write Fitness Philippines. I have been involved in physical fitness for more than 10 years now and am currently taking up graduate studies on Exercise and Sports Science at the University of the Philippines. You can contact me at
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