Can uniform color affect a team’s performance? Two articles recently published in the Journal of Sports Sciences suggest that the answer may be yes. Research at the Universities of Plymouth and Durham in the United Kingdom examined team the records of English professional leagues in an effort to determine if jersey color impacted match outcome. They found that teams that wore red at home won more games than those who wore other colors. In a second study, investigators from the University of Portsmouth and the Chelsea School report that the jersey color of a penalty takes affected goal keepers expectation of saving a penalty kick. Red jerseys reduced the keeper’s confidence. These studies raise interesting questions regarding the psychology of sport and the performance of both individual players and teams.
In the first study, researchers compiled records over 57 years, from 1947 through 2003, for the top 68 ranked teams in the English professional leagues. They categorized the teams based on their home kit. Whether they wore jerseys that were primarily red, blue, white or yellow/orange (this information was obtained from http://www.historicalkits.co.uk/ ). If color had no effect on match outcome, the number of wins would not differ between the groups of jersey color.
They researchers found that teams who wear red at home had better home records that would be expected by chance. Three of the four teams with the best home records wear red, Liverpool (1st), Manchester United (2nd) and Arsenal (4th). Leeds (3rd) wear white. In the bottom 20 teams, only one (Barnsley) wore red. Red teams won an average of 53% of their home matches. This was followed by blue (51%), white (51%) and yellow (48%). This pattern was not seen in the away matches where teams wear their alternate jersey. Red teams tended to fare poorer than the others when wearing their alternate jersey. As for league championships, red teams also won the trophy nearly 60 percent of the time while playing only ~25% of the total home matches.
In a second study, the researchers looked at the impact of jersey color on impressions formed by goalkeepers. Trained goalkeepers watched videos of players preparing to take penalty kicks and starting their run-up. The videos were filmed from the perspective of the keeper as if the viewer were preparing to defend the kick. In half of the videos, the penalty takers wore red and in the other half they wore white. The goalkeepers perceived the players wearing red more positively and as being more skilled in penalty taking ability. Also the keepers expressed less confidence in saving the kick when the taker wore red.
The authors of the first study note other studies that have shown a link between competitive performance and wearing red. In 2005, they examined the results of Olympic events such as judo, boxing and wrestling where one competitor is required to wear a red uniform and the other blue. In these sports, the trend is that the red competitor is more often victorious. The present study is the first to suggest a similar “color effect” for team sports.
These studies raise a number of interesting questions. Does this explain why Andriy Shevchenko’s play has suffered since he transferred from the Rossineri to the Blue of Chelsea? Should your team order new uniforms? The answer to both of these is probably not. While these studies are interesting, it is important to consider that there are many factors that the researchers could not consider. For the professional teams, factors such as wealth of the club play a huge part in its success. For the keepers, past experiences, the penalty taker’s body language and approach may influence his or her perception. Only when all of the other factors that influence individual and team performance are equal might jersey color tip the balance between losing a winning.
Attrill MJ, Gresty KA, Hill R, Barton RA (2008) Red shirt color is associated with long-term team success in English football. Journal of Sports Sciences, 26:577-582.
Greenlees I, Leyland A, Thelwell R, Filey W (2008) Soccer penalty takers’ uniform colour and pre-penalty kick gaze affect the impressions formed of them by opposing goalkeepers. Journal of Sports Sciences, 26:569-576.