It is clear that spectators and the crowd as a whole have an effect on team dynamics in sports.  In football, the intimidation and jeers of a home town crowd can leave and opposing offense feeling like the weight of the world is against them.  The effect of crowd energy on both of the teams in an NBA championship game raises the tension level, which can result in higher levels of conflict or cohesion between teammates depending on how the team as a whole deals with it.  But the phenomenon of crowd influence on athletes is not only reserved for team sports.

In the semifinal tennis match of the 2011 U.S. Open in New York, Roger Federer went up against Novak Djokovic to vie for the chance to win the title.  Federer had won the tournament and the hearts on the N.Y. fans from 2004-2008, and is widely regarded as one of the greatest players in tennis history.  However, Djokovic had compiled a record of 57-2 for the year and grabbed the title of #1 in the world in the process.  After a back-and-forth battle the players found themselves in the final set.  Federer had earned himself a 5-3 lead and a chance to serve for the victory.  Still feeling loyal toward Federer, the crowd urged him on and cheered after a few Djokovic errors.  Djokovic took this personally and even took the time to mock the crowd by mimicking their response to his misses.  All the while Federer was left waiting to start the point and was consequently thrown off his rhythm.  Federer proceeded to make a few costly errors that ultimately cost him the match.

Regardless of how one feels about the “gamesmanship” of Djokovic, this situation brings to light an interesting situation where the crowd itself is exhibiting a collective team dynamic that both athletes are trying to capitalize on.  The athletes know that if the crowd is on the their side they will reap the benefits of that support.  In team sports the athletes have their teammates to provide solidarity and support.  In an individual sport like tennis the crowd becomes a force that the players must deal with by themselves.  Normal human emotions such as the need for acceptance can cause athletes to act out in reaction to the behaviors of the crowd.  As with the reaction of Djokovic, such actions can change the course of a match/game.  Applying aspects of team dynamics to groups of spectators – especially in sports where they hold a great deal of power – is necessary and worthy of continued attention in the future.

Drew Moller