How does kit colour impact an athlete's performance?

Colour psychology kickstarts questions like how and why do certain colours evoke moods? Does green make people feel calm? Does yellow bring energy and make people think of the sun? Does a person wearing a red dress shirt seem more confident than a person wearing an orange shirt?

Although the messages of colours and shades can be diverse depending on individual’s experience and culture, it’s clear that colours have an impact on the human mood. Let’s take an extension from that – if colour can affect us mentally, can it affect us physically? If our moods are heightened or dampened based on colours, it would make sense that colours could be used as a means to amplify performance in athletics.

Red is often cited as a confident or even aggressive colour while blue denotes calm. Green may suggest health, and black has connotations of death in many cultures. It has been cited by numerous sources that teams wearing a red sports kit are more successful. But is this always the case?

Let’s take a look at some running club colours. The main purpose of a club colours is, at base level, to identify runners on the track. For example, the Edinburgh University Hare & Hounds Running Club wear green, whereas the Glasgow University club colours wear black and gold.

In other sports, colours have been attributed to a higher success rate. Hill and Barton conducted a study regarding combat sports, and concluded that red had a higher success rate than blue due to red apparently sending a message of aggression and dominance to the opponent. But another study of Judo athletes showed blue contestants had a higher victory rate than those wearing white. According to researchers, the study was not wholly controlled – the blue-kit wearing contestants were seeded as the top 11 per cent. Another study corrected these variables, and found uniform colour had little impact on success.

If colour doesn’t push the athletes to more frequent success, then does the colour of an athlete’s kit affect anything at all? Minnpost dug a little deeper into the matter, and found an alternative view on the issue from psychologist Tom Stafford. He suggested that the colour of kit didn’t impact the athletes as much as they impacted the referee – and he used studies of digital colour manipulation to support this theory, in which referees were shown images with the colours worn by contestants altered. The referees awarded more points to those photoshopped in red kit than in blue. Could it be that the colour of sportswear has more of an effect on the people watching than the athletes themselves then?

It makes sense; athletics performances are watched by audiences who, at the end of the day, want to be entertained. Perhaps the choice of colour in sportswear is less to do with trying to increase the chance of winning, or putting off the opponent, but instead generating a sense of excitement and energy in the crowd watching.

Football shirts

But that’s not to say colour psychology has no place in athletics. But instead of looking at what we wear when we go for a run or perform sports, perhaps we should consider our surroundings instead. Swiss running website On suggests that the real power of colour psychology in athletics comes from the colours of a runner’s surroundings. The example they give is that running in a grey room may be uninspiring and clinical, whereas running in a colourful room might perk the athlete up more.

They go on to apply that theory to running outdoors versus running indoors – running in a green field, under a blue sky, for instance, would likely be a more positive experience for the runner than running on a treadmill indoors. The sight of these colours could make for a happier athlete who, in turn, may perform better.

Colour psychology can certainly be deployed in the world of athletics. But if a team or athlete wins where another doesn’t, it’s unlikely because he or she chose to wear a red shirt.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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