Color Spectrum in Sport: The Unintentional Raising of Performance Index

Colors have a huge meaning in our life. Some of them are linked to happiness and joy, while others pertain to elevated emotions. It is known that certain shades can raise blood pressure, increase productivity, and fasten metabolism. etc. But do you know that colors can affect an athlete’s performance beyond their perception? 

Colors are everywhere in sports. Whether it is your teams’ jersey or your surroundings, athletes don’t tend to pay attention to how colors affect them. However, many teams and players take advantage of it by exploring color psychology in sport. Read more to see how some colors can affect you. 

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In the color spectrum, red is one of the most visible colors. It always grabs a person's attention, that’s why stop signs, fire engines use it to warn people about the danger. Research held on the undergraduate students showed that wearing red may elevate blood pressure and heart rate. In some cases, it intensifies metabolism and respiration frequency. In therapy, red is used to stimulate the body and mind and. As for sport, red causes people to react with greater speed and force. 

In 2005, scientists at Durham University, England, held an unusual investigation. They wanted to figure out whether athletes' performances were affected by the colors worn on uniforms. Analyzing the outcomes of a single combat competition (boxing, taekwondo, and freestyle wrestling), psychologists made a conclusion that athletes who were wearing red uniforms received a statistically significant advantage over the enemy. Robert Burton, one of the scientists, mentioned that the results of his work prove that the athlete wearing red color causes a negative effect on the performance of his opponent.

Sports psychologist Norbert Hagemann at the University of Munster made the same conclusion. His study was based on an experiment: the videos of taekwondo bouts, in which one of the combatants wore red and another one was in blue, were shown to 40 experienced referees. After that, videos were digitally edited and the colors of the clothing were swapped. When researchers showed changed recordings to the referees, the fighters in red scored nearly 13% more points than when they were blue. 


In general, one’s color-related emotions and feelings depend on personal experience associated with this particular color. For some people, black oozes sophistication and represents elegance, however, according to L.Sandford’s publication in Journal of the International Color Association (2014), black is viewed as the color of evil, death, hate, anger, etc. Throughout history, humanity used black to describe something bad and horrible: Black Thursday, black mood, black list, black heart, etc.

The researcher Gregory Webster of the University of Florida says that an analysis of the penalty records of the National Football League and the National Hockey League indicates that teams wearing black jerseys, in particular, get penalized the most. In football, whenever a team switched to black uniforms, it went with an immediate increase in penalties. As for hockey, the psychologist said that teams that were wearing dark jerseys were penalized about two minutes more per game (based on an analysis of more than 50,000 NHL games over 25 years). The results of the two experiments demonstrate that these outcomes can be attributed to the biased judgments of referees and to the surged aggressiveness and power of the players themselves. 

The reasons for players wearing black uniforms getting more penalties is still not known, but Webster has made several assumptions. In the case of hockey, there is a hypothesis that players in dark jerseys are more visible on ice and all the mistakes are visible. The inconsistency is that team members in black got penalized much often than the ones who were wearing any other dark colors. The second assumption is that wearing black makes people more aggressive, impelling hostile behavior. A third possibility is that the player doesn’t do anything to land him/her in the penalty box, but the referees have a bias against the dark color. The subjective perspective might be unconscious, but it still affects the final decision.

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Blue is most commonly associated with a clear sky or smooth water, and perhaps this is the reason why people describe it as serene and peaceful. But on the other hand, this shade can impel the feeling of sadness, estrangement, and yearning (e.g. ponder about Picasso’s paintings during the “blue period” which are associated with pain and desolation or masterpieces by Ivan Aivazovsky that create the feeling of anxiety). But how can blue color impact an athlete’s performance?

Since it is a calm and trustworthy shade, the team or a player in blue uniform seems to be sincere and honest to the judges as well as to all the spectators. Furthermore, this color radiates strength and stability: in color psychology, it was proved that blue shades impel productivity. That’s why recently, blue tartan running tracks were put into use. 

Nevertheless, a recent study pointed out the fact that since blue is a receding color, red is advancing, thus the athlete in a bright color can have an intimidating effect on the opponent.

Colors influence our mood, decisions, behavior. Color psychology is being used in consumer purchases and marketing, therapy, sports, etc. Undoubtedly, it will NOT be a guarantee of a competition’s outcome – if an athlete is stronger, faster, and smarter than others, he will win no matter what shirt he is wearing. However, at the highest level of play, when the skill level is incredibly close, color can become a very important factor.

Works Cited

Cherry, K. (2020a, May 28). Can Color Affect Your Mood and Behavior? Verywell Mind.

Cherry, K. (2020b, October 13). How the Color Black Impacts Moods, Feelings, and Behaviors. Verywell Mind.

Cuba earned its first gold medal at the World Wrestling Championship. (2018, October 22). Panam Sports.

H. (2019, August 19). Does colour impact athletics performance? Hub Publishing.

Polozov, A. (2006, October 16). The amazing world of sports. Uniform color is the path to success. School Sport.

Vedantam, S. (2012, April 26). NPR Cookie Consent and Choices. Hidden Brain.

Xia T, Song L, Wang TT, Tan L, Mo L (2016) Exploring the effect of red and blue on cognitive task performances. Front Psychol 7: 784.

Zyga, B. L. (2008, February 25). Can Athletic Uniform Color Determine Winners and Losers? Phys.Org.


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