How Psychology and Storytelling Make Sports Entertaining | SportsMainly
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How Psychology and Storytelling Make Sports Entertaining

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In the Superbowl of 2018, the Philadelphia Eagles won, and the fans took to the streets. The celebrations were so boisterous that it was inevitable for lamps and cars to go unscathed. Parties in the streets of Madrid lasted days when the Spanish National Team won the World Cup in 2010.

A championship victory can paint a team in a whole new light. If your hometown basketball league wins a championship, what would you feel when you think back over the regular season?

Isn’t there something thrilling about watching champions in the making?

Their victory on Christmas Day would be like any other holiday entertainment. The time and efforts spent during practices won them the respect, worthy of being seen as a seeded team. But what makes these events seem to make perfect sense?

Taking Sides

Stories enable people to make sense of an event. The patterns of a story’s construction help these events become understandable. Stories of victory and defeat are one of the most prominent themes in sporting events. We choose for ourselves who the winner is. It is in the narrative that we are able to distinguish them from the rest.

Narrative Bias?

According to psychologists, narrative bias is the people’s tendency to interpret information as part of a larger story or pattern, regardless of whether they actually support the full narrative.

There are two elements of narrative bias that lead to biased conclusions and can strongly influence behavior. First is the Specific Details Narrative Bias, which spurns a realistic and memorable narrative.

Then, there is the Cause and Effect Explanations Narrative Bias that helps understand why a series of events eventually leads to final outcomes. And we’ve seen this in avid sports fans who interpret the past events to make sense of them.

Expect the Unexpected

The touchstone of great fiction is an unpredictable yet satisfying ending. To quote American novelist, Flannery O’Connor: “Story endings should be surprising yet inevitable.” The final reveal is a surprise, but in retrospect, it makes perfect sense.

We allow ourselves to become immersed in the grandeur of highly-anticipated activities and filled with an adrenaline rush. And in the erratic and volatile events of sports, stories are spun.

Unlike fiction, the results in a sports game cannot be predicted. That’s one of the beauties of sports: It keeps us on the edge of our seats and makes us concentrate on the games. For even the meekest of underdogs, against all the odds, will have their day.

Intuitively, we think of champions as the true deserving victors, as in, they are categorized to be ahead of their rivals. In the process, we exalt championship teams and star players. However, we find that the space between winners and losers is not only incredibly small but also significantly influenced by luck.

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Learning to Live a Healthy Lifestyle from Athletes

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Learning to live a healthy lifestyle is a must. What better way to learn, then, but by echoing the footsteps of world-famous athletes who daily prove that having a well-balance diet and a regular exercise routine can make life better?

Patricia Apolot, holder of the 2015 World Kickboxing Federation, is the most famous female kickboxer in her native Uganda. She shares that, aside from maintaining a healthy, well-balanced diet, she avoids eating anything in the evening, as well. She asserts that eating during the night can easily lead to weight gain, specifically because we typically head to sleep during that time. She also mentions that she keeps herself fit by maintaining adequate balance between physical workout and relaxation time.

“I avoid extreme training. I jog twice a week and I always give myself at least a month or two to rest before going back to training. This helps my body to rest,” Apolot asserts.

Having a healthy lifestyle, she says, is easily attained when you avoid doing monotonous things. She points out that doing various activities with family and friends allows her sufficient relaxation. Spending some of her time in the garden also helps maintain her mental well-being, she mentions.

“You cannot do anything when you are not mentally well. Talk to friends, find interesting things to do such as going to church to improve your spiritual wellbeing and avoid boredom at all costs,” Apolot shares.

As regards physical training, she tells people to challenge themselves. For Apolot, doing various exercises that use up more strength and energy than usual is effective. This allows you to stay interested while you tone your body at the same time.

She adds, however, that it is crucial to build any routine gradually. Nobody becomes magically athletic overnight. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle becomes a kind of living philosophy. It is not based on a sudden whim. “Be it push-ups or any kind of exercise, be it in the gym or outdoors, start slowly and build up pace until you reach your target. This will help you avoid burnout,” she cautions.

Denis Onyango, Uganda Cranes’ captain and goalkeeper, is also a player for South African Premier Soccer League club, the Mamelodi Sundowns. He asserts that maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be done by setting several target goals, obtaining adequate rest, eating a balanced diet, and having enough dedication. Onyango adds that getting to understand your body type and knowing your ambitions help, as well.

It is essential to be selective of what you eat, he shares. “Eating the right food helps me to recover and get the energy I need to work hard again the following day,” Onyango says.

To achieve a physically fit body and maintain a healthy lifestyle, Onyango advises people to quit bad addictions. He stresses the necessity of halting nasty habits such as drinking and smoking. He, instead, calls for the need to eat nutritiously as he points out the good points of consuming a balanced percentage of proteins, vitamins, and carbohydrates.

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Messi Follows Maradona’s Skills and Goals but Has His Preferred Lifestyle

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Lionel Messi is the sole athlete to deserve being compared to Diego Maradona. Avid fans assert that Messi follows Maradona—or, at least, is very similar to the late athlete. In Sunday’s game against Osasuna, Messi dedicated his 4-0 win to Maradona.

The two Argentine iconic athletes are, in fact, very dissimilar in character. However, they are both very fond of Newell’s Old Boys. During the said Sunday event, Messi pulled up his shirt to show the black and red colors of the Rosario Club and then he pointed to the sky.

Messi follows Maradona, literally, since Maradona was Argentina’s captain during the 1986 World Cup victory in Mexico which was a year after Messi was born. Messi, as a fan, also attended Maradona’s 1993 club debut at Newell’s Stadium.

During Sunday’s game, Messi did a similar dribble across the edge of the field prior to reaching the top area—a move that Maradona previously did during an event against Emelec. That move wasn’t the only one that proves the fact that Messi follows Maradona in so many ways.

Messi’s moves against Getafe during a 2007 game echoes Maradona’s moves against England during the quarter-finals of the 1986 World Cup event, an event that is also commemorated for Argentina’s ‘Hand of God’ goal. This spectacular move was delivered by doing a dribble past the goalkeeper plus an iconic slide on the ground prior to letting the ball finally trickle into the awaiting net.

Indeed, Messi follows Maradona as the pair are both known to have a low gravity center, an excellent passing vision and range, and that famous left foot. Nonetheless, their characters are entirely disparate.

Maradona was known for his off-field preoccupations. He deftly craved being in the spotlight. He was Argentina’s beloved hero as many of his fans defied the restrictions and fear of the COVID-19 virus as they mourn his passing on Wednesday at the age of 60.

Although Maradona did not win Europe’s topmost club prize in his lifetime, he victoriously grabbed a UEFA CUP win and even a couple of Serie A awards. He was also the 1986 World Cup’s most dominant player.

Messi, on the other hand, is the all-time top scorer of Argentina. His team, however, lost to Germany during the 2014 World Cup finals. He also was part of the losing team in a couple of Copa America finals due to penalties they incurred.

“Maradona is definitely the best player I ever saw, but Messi fans shouldn’t get angry about that because he lives in a different era. But you could put Maradona alongside 10 broomsticks and he would still make the team win,” Alberto Fernandez, Argentina’s president, shared during an interview earlier this year.

Former athletes, however, do not know who to choose as the best. However, many fans agree that even if Messi follows Maradona in so many aspects of his career, both are labelled as Argentina sports heroes who can never be forgotten or replaced.

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Scientists Use Sports to Study the Brain

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Researchers look into the brains of avid basketball fans as they watch the games, allowing MRI scans to measure that element of surprise.

Those exciting, nerve-wracking instances in sports are linked to the element of surprise. Suspense heightens that feeling of anticipation and the sudden, unexpected outcome produces that quick thud in the psyche.

James Antony, a neuroscientist based in Princeton University, opts to look into these momentous instances in sports to analyze the workings of the human brain—and study how we process that element of surprise. “We’re trying to figure out how people update their understanding of things that are occurring in the real world, based on how events unfold over time — how they set up these contextually-based predictions, and what happens when those are confirmed or contradicted,” asserts Antony, citing the different processes involved as the human brain reacts to unexpected events that happen in sports.

Antony’s team observed 20 basketball fans as they avidly concentrated on the last 5 minutes of the 9 games from the men’s NCAA March Madness tournament in 2012. While the participants were watching the games, a specialized camera was tracking their corresponding eye movements. At the same time, MRI scans were measuring their neural activities. The researchers opted for basketball because the frequency of the scoring allowed them more moments to witness the element of surprise crucial to the subject at hand.

“This study has both theoretical significance, in terms of testing and refining models of how surprise affects the brain and behavior, and also popular science appeal. Sporting events like the NCAA tournament are both incredibly compelling and also hyper-quantifiable — you can assess, moment-by-moment, exactly how probable an outcome will be, given what happened in previous games — making them an ideal domain for studying how cognitive processes like memory, event understanding and emotional responses work in the real world. James’ paper is the first to unlock the potential of this approach,” points out Ken Norman, the Huo Professor in Computational and Theoretical Neuroscience and the chair of the Department of Psychology who is also the senior author of the publication.

During the unexpected moments of the said games—last minute maneuvers and key turnovers, most participants exhibited fast pupil dilation plus various shifts in different areas of the brain including the prefrontal cortex. “There’s a lot of nuance — it’s not like ‘Surprise is surprise is surprise is surprise,’” shares Antony, mentioning that the element of surprise provides various effects in the different systems of the brain.

“As a field, we’ve been eager to see whether the principles that we’ve come up with — based on these very simplified scenarios — apply in real life. The challenge is that in real life, it’s hard to pinpoint the moment when the surprise occurs, or how big the surprise was. Sports let us precisely quantify surprise in a real-world setting, giving us the perfect opportunity to see whether these ideas about surprise generalize outside of the lab,” Norman explains, adding that the element of surprise can only be relevantly quantified when doing actual observations outside of the controlled atmosphere of the academic laboratory.

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