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Why we love the misery of playoff hockey

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04-16-2004, 11:25 AM
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Why we love the misery of playoff hockey

Fringe benefit of working for the government: you get access to their online news service, which is basically a dozen newspapers in online form. There's no link to this article at ottawacitizen.com, so I figured I'd just throw it down here. It's a little something for those of us who, well.... get really anxious at playoff time, for no real reason.

So anyways, here we go!

Why we love the misery of playoff hockey: Our anxiety over the fate of a team is only natural: we're tribal beings
Publication: CIT - The Ottawa Citizen
Source: INF - All CanWest Publications
Apr 16 01:00

Page: A1 / Front
Section: News
Edition: Final
Byline: Carrie Kristal-Schroder

Julie Ranger is a mother-to-be whose anxiety often becomes overwhelming.

But it's not the upcoming birth that's giving the 28-year-old Bells Corners bartender the jitters. It's the fortunes of the Ottawa Senators as they battle Toronto in their quest for the Stanley Cup.

"I get so anxious -- especially during this series with Toronto. When things get too tense, I turn to Home and Garden till I've calmed down," says Ms. Ranger. She's not normally a nervous person, but finds there's a whole different energy when it comes to the playoffs.

Psychologists aren't surprised by the strength of Ms. Ranger's identification with her team. It all comes down to being part of a tribe.

Dr. David Myers, a basketball fan and social psychologist at Hope College in Michigan, understands exactly how Ms. Ranger feels.

After musing with a colleague during a basketball game, Dr. Myers wrote a paper titled Why Do We Care Who Wins?

Fans care because humans are social animals who live in groups, cheer on their groups, die for their groups and define themselves by their groups, says Dr. Myers.

"Our self-concept -- our sense of who we are -- consists not only of our personal qualities, but also of our social identity," says Dr. Myers. "And our social identities strengthen our self-concept and pride, especially when we perceive our group as superior."

Dr. Myers notes that even people who are clustered into groups using such random criteria as birthdate or the last digit of their driver's license "feel a certain kinship with their number mates and will show them favouritism."

In sports, as in war, the enemy of your enemy is your friend. For example, Dr. Myers points out that the Scots gloated when Germany beat the English in the 1996 Euro Cup.

And sports fans, like tribes, appear to reserve their most intense passions for rivals most similar to to them, which may explain the Ottawa-Toronto animosity.

"Freud long ago recognized that animosities formed around small differences. Of the two neighbouring towns, each is the other's most jealous rival."

Some sports fans care so much they can't bear to watch a crucial game, says Dr. Myers.

Stressed-out fans are like parents who are afraid their child won't do well, says Dr. Terry Orlick, a sports psychologist and kinesiologist at University of Ottawa.

"So some fans, if they want to watch, probably need some kind of stress control," says Dr. Orlick.

"The way I see it, is people feel they have a personal investment even though they may not know the players. This ends up being like an extended family and the outcome becomes important."

University of Toronto psychology professor Dr. John Furedy, originally from Australia, takes a more critical view of North American sports culture.

"To care so much about losing that you can't bear to watch it ... I mean, this is a very sick culture," says Dr. Furedy. "I should be more careful when walking the streets."

However, Dr. Furedy concedes the tribal instinct is probably what's pushing fans' strong identification with their hockey team.

John George, 52, says while he is a usually laid-back person, he has to turn away or leave the room at times during a tense playoff game.

Watching a Senators playoff game is comparable to the anxiety he feels when watching his daughters play sports, says Mr. George.

Greg Burke, 57, who played competitive hockey for several years, said it's probably harder on his nerves being a fan.

"For a player, the butterflies go away very quickly when you start playing, whereas for a fan, the butterflies never go away."

Dr. Orlick has some suggestions for anxiety-ridden fans. Practice deep breathing; remember you can't control the game's outcome.

Focus on the positives, such as the tremendous skill-level of the players. And remember, it really is only a game, so keep things in perspective.

In the end, some says it's a good nervousness.

"At the end of the day, I remind myself I get a chance to watch great athletes participate in an awesome sport," says Ms. Ranger.

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04-16-2004, 12:43 PM
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Thanks ......... now at least I have some coping strategies/ reasons for the upset stomach and sweaty palms. Nice to see our tax dollars at work.... really the most useful thing to date so far....

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04-17-2004, 01:25 PM
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messed up

I read this article in the Ottawa Citizen and felt "wow this me"! I get really nervous and anxious and sometimes have to turn away when the Leafs are approaching the goal...I know the reason why I get so upset though, I'm an employee at The Corel Centre so if they lose I'm out of a job, but it's more than that...I've met the greatest friends at Corel and if they lose I might lose them, so I have a more personal reason for wanting the sens to win, but also of course I am a huge hockey fan...anyway, i'm just keeping my fingers crossed. LEAFS SUCK

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