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Why does it hurt so badly when "our" team loses?

Social Connection through Sport

Many Bay Area residents went to bed Sunday night with a huge heaviness in their hearts. Sadly, many of us woke up Monday morning to the same heaviness. “Our” NBA team, the Golden State Warriors, lost game 7 of the championships Sunday night. Why does this one loss weigh so heavily on our hearts? It’s just a game, right? When I left the viewing party I was at Sunday night, my friends and family told me there would be a lot of people seeking therapy Monday…so here is a brief group therapy.

As humans, we are mostly social creatures; literally neurologically wired to connect with other social creatures. We enjoy being a part of something bigger than ourselves. It makes us feel important. Cheering for a professional team automatically includes us in a community. Fans want more fans for their teams, so they let everyone into their community, no questions asked! It doesn’t matter how we look, what we do, what our histories are, who our friends are, how much money we make or even where we live. If we see someone sporting a t-shirt from our favorite team, they are instant friends. We have even been known to hug the stranger sitting next to us in a bar when Steph Curry makes a three-pointer! What other way is there for us to build community with a common goal so easily? Cities want sports teams affiliated with them to enhance their community and attractiveness. Corporations will pay out millions of dollars to be affiliated with a team through sponsorship. Try to go through a day without witnessing a single person representing their team through their attire…you probably won’t make it. So it makes sense that when we become so attached to our teams (just like our close friends and family), we live and breathe by their successes and failures.

If our team’s losses cause so much disappointment, can it be healthy for us to become so attached to a game? Social identity theory (Tajfel, 1978) suggests it absolutely can! Identifying with a sports team gives us a perceived emotional/psychological connection with others. It is this connection that helps us navigate the ups and downs of our days. Even if we are alone at home watching a game on TV, we feel connected when we are cheering for our team. Research has suggested that human connection has a profound impact on our ability to manage life. We gain values, belongingness and insight from connection with others.

In a world that allows us to feel so alone even in a city of close to a million people, seeing someone else in a Golden State Warriors t-shirt makes my world seem just a little smaller and less lonely. For that reason alone I will take the heartbreak of a loss along with the glory of the win! As a member of the Warriors community, I know I am not suffering alone and do not need to suffer in silence. Besides, despite the discontent of the losses, there are few greater feelings than sharing your teams’ wins with your community! A big win can be enough to brighten even the darkest of our days! And that is something worth cheering for!

Thanks for a great season Warriors and here's to an even better one next year!

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