Home field advantage is one of the least understood phenomena in sports. Do teams win more at home than on the road? Does it depend on the sport? Or the geographical location of the home team? The answer is yes and no. Home field advantage depends on several factors that can influence the outcome of a game.
Teams in playoff contention strive to gain home field advantage during the post-season. Playing critical playoff games at home is perceived as a major competitive advantage. On average, teams competing at home have approximately a 60-percent chance to win.
You’re in the comfort of your own stadium, you know the field of play well and you have the support of your fans. In hockey, you have the advantage of matching your team’s lines with your opponent’s, and you get the last shot in the shootout. In football, the fans play a huge role—making noise to disorient and confuse defenses or even directly impacting a referee’s call.
Studies have shown that for every time zone an away team crosses, the home team benefits by 20 percent. Amateur athletes may not have to deal with time zones; but an away team may have to travel a long distance on an uncomfortable bus just to get to the game. The visiting players have an entirely different challenge, which the home team does not have to deal with.
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Weather can also play a role. As depicted in the diagram below, cold has more of an impact on a player’s performance than heat. Imagine the adjustments Miami Dolphins players must make when they play in Buffalo, one of the harshest winter environments in the NFL.
Clearly, there are many logistical and environmental benefits to playing at home, but mental barriers could hurt the home team’s performance. Players may feel a heightened pressure to succeed in front of the own crowd. If they make a bad play or are off their game, they may feel like they are choking, which only exacerbates the problem. Players may also experience this when parents or close friends attend the game.
Bottom line: Home team fans and crowd noise contribute to home field advantage. But for you, the athlete, most of this is out of your control. You need to stay focused and pay attention to your game—and not get distracted by the crowd or the condition of the field. Giving too much thought to things you can’t control will only reduce your chances for ultimate success.