Why Players Perform Better When They Are Losing

Nearly every professional athlete will tell you that they hate to lose. The interesting thing is that the majority of athletes hate losing so much that they actually perform better in situations where they are attempting to avoid defeat rather than simply trying to win. The psychology behind the theory is referred to as “loss aversion” and it draws from the simple fact that humans hate to have things taken away from them. Here is a look at why players perform better when they are losing.

Loss Aversion & How It Works

Studies have proven that athletes will perform that much better overall in situations where they are facing defeat. The most potent real-world example comes from the PGA Tour, where a study of over two million putts between 2004 and 2009 helped to support this theory. According to the study, only 28.3% of birdie attempts were hit while 82.9% of par putts were successful. Of course, not all putts are equal and the reality is that the majority of birdie putts are harder to hit than par putts. However, the researchers averaged-out the distances and golfers still putted in 3.7% more shots for par than birdies. According to psychologists, sinking a birdie putt will also be considered a “winning” point while sinking a par putt will be considered avoiding a “lose”. This is the strongest example of loss aversion in sport but it isn’t the only one.

Loss Aversion In Different Sports

Loss aversion is easy to quantify in golf but it also exists in sports like soccer, football, basketball, hockey and baseball. For example, if a team is winning, they tend to revert to defensive tactics rather than sticking with what worked for them to get the lead in the first place. At the same time, a team that is losing will alter their tactics in order to try to come back and win. Football is an excellent example since research has shown that an effective passing game is much more important to success than an effective running game on offense. Teams that fall behind tend to run pass plays on offense that much more since they are trying to come back in the game. This is the perfect example of how a team will change its strategy in order to avoid a loss rather than simply playing that way from the very outset.

Loss Aversion In Bettors

Loss aversion isn’t limited to the actual games either. Studies have shown that even casual bettors can make irrational decisions because of it. The reality is that most casual bettors will be a lot more careful with their wager selections when they have a smaller amount of money since they don’t want to lose it. Meanwhile, those same players might tend to take more risks when they have enough money since they feel like they can spare some should they lose. Loss aversion is a simple concept and it’s good for bettors to be aware of its existence in the case of both professional athletes as well as within themselves.