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Devonport, T. J., & Lane, A. M. (2008). Swing Low, Sweet Chariot: Crowd singing and rugby union performance. Paper presented as part of the Symposium: Chariots of Fire: The Multifaceted Effects of Music in Sport and Exercise at the Music, Health and Happiness, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, UK, Thursday 6 to Saturday 8 November 2008

Abstract

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot: Crowd singing and rugby union performance

Tracey J. Devonport, Andrew M. Lane, and Danielle Francis
School of Sport, Performing Arts and Leisure, University of Wolverhampton, UK

Crowd singing is considered a key aspect of the home-advantage phenomenon (Carron, Loughhead, & Bray, 2005; Smith, 2003). It is common for a team to have a song the crowd and players recognise as “their anthem”. Despite a wealth of anecdotal evidence (see Karageorghis & Terry, 2008), there is little scientific research to explore the effects of crowd singing on performance. Following ethical approval, two focus groups of professional rugby players (n = 6; n = 8) engaged in semi-structured interviews that included questions such as: Do you think the crowd singing can affect the performance of the team? How do you feel when the crowd are singing or supporting your team? What type of crowd songs help?

Data were analysed by grouping responses into themes. Five themes emerged and these are described with indicative content in Table 1.

Awareness of the crowd
“I think we would say that it doesn’t, but subconsciously I think it does. You notice when a crowd is on your side and when they are not on your side.”

Ideal Crowd Conditions
“I suppose we’d like to have the noisiest loudest crowd, drums are good. Those are the sorts of things you want.”
“It’s nice to have a recognisable song, at least you know it’s your fans singing it.”

Cognitions relating to performing in front of a large crowd
“I think you just try and shut it out as quickly as possible and just forget about what you’ve done wrong and get on with the rest of the game rather than dwelling on what you’ve done wrong.”

Responses to hostile crowd
“When we go to an away game and their crowd has been really loud and we do something like score a try or we have a lead and we shut the crowd up, that can have an effect for us”.
Music preferences
“Like listening to music, during warm-up period. Positive comments on teams that have personal songs that are played when a try is scored”

The focus group results hint at some of the possible mechanisms through which crowd singing might influence performance. It appears that players need to produce more effort to ignore a hostile crowd as they actively try to block out abusive comments. Players consciously process negative and abusive crowd singing, but subconsciously process supportive crowd singing. It is suggested that crowds could enhance team performance by selecting a song with a strong rhythm, loud volume, and clear association with the team. The song should be sung during the warm-up, breaks in play, towards the end of the game and to counter the singing of the home crowd (at away games).

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