Crying Found to Give College Football Players a ‘Mental Edge’

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(Courtesy of Education Week)

Any football coaches that discourage their players from crying clearly haven’t read the October issue of Psychology of Men & Masculinity, a journal published by the American Psychological Association.

College football players who felt comfortable displaying emotion—both positive (happiness) and negative (sadness)—were found to have higher self-esteem than those who shunned emotion, according to two papers in the journal.

The players also reported feeling great pressure to conform to masculine norms, in a third study examining players’ motivation behind getting muscular. Those players cited “emotional control” as a motivating factor behind their muscularity, as they framed emotion as a level of intensity necessary to succeed on the playing field.

While the studies focus on college, not high school, football players, it’s possible that the findings could extend to the high school level with further research.

In one study, titled “Men’s Tears: Football Players’ Evaluations of Crying Behavior,” 150 college players were randomly assigned to read one of four vignettes about a player, “Jack,” who either teared up or sobbed after winning or losing a football game.

The players found it appropriate when Jack teared up after losing a game, but drew a line at sobbing. Players felt pressure to adhere to societal constructs of masculinity, but were more likely to sob after losing a game than winning a game.

The researchers were motivated by the fact that days after the University of Florida lost the 2009 BCS championship game in football, the phrase “Tim Tebow crying” was the hottest Google Internet search, as Tebow, Florida’s quarterback, was seen shedding tears on the sidelines.

“In 2009, the news media disparaged University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow for crying on the sidelines after losing a big game, even labeling him Tim ‘Tearbow,’” said psychologist Y. Joel Wong, the study’s lead author, in a statement.

“However, the college football players in our study who believed Jack’s crying was appropriate had higher self-esteem. In contrast, players who believed Jack’s crying was inappropriate yet felt they would likely cry in Jack’s situation had lower self-esteem.”

Another one of the studies examined 197 football players’ pressure to conform to masculine norms—most specifically, the need for a muscular physique.

The researchers discovered that players cited athletics as the primary reason for their muscularity, but also admitted that “social benefits of external gratification (e.g., physical appearance, conformity, sex appeal)” played a major factor in their desire to remain bulked up.

The final study surveyed 153 college football players if they felt pressured to show little emotion and affection in front of other men due to societal pressures. Much like the other studies, the players did express that they felt pressure from society to act tough and not display much emotion.

But the players who felt more comfortable displaying emotion were also more satisfied with their lives, the study found.

“Overall, college football players who strive to be stronger and are emotionally expressive are more likely to have a mental edge on and off the field,” said psychologist Jesse Steinfeldt, who co-authored each article in the special section.

Just some food for thought as we near the midway point of high school football season…


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