Sports are one of those things that can be incredibly polarizing — before you even talk about what kind of sport, what kind of team, or the referees of those particular sports. In 2017, Gallup asked Americans if they considered themselves sports fans, and 57% of people reported that they were. That is, unless you ask about Olympic sports, where the number goes up significantly.
What that doesn’t address, however, is the question of how much emotional energy those fans dedicate to their sports. In a Psychology Today article that reviewed some of the research on sports fans, Susan Krauss Whitbourne explained, quote:
[A] well-known distinction between sports fans classifies them as “true fans” vs. “fickle fans.” The Vallerand et al. model sets that aside in favor of the two types of passion in fans. You can be a harmoniously passionate fan who is happy when the team wins and sad when they lose but still enjoy the actual game itself. If you’re an obsessive fan, you’ll make the team’s performance a central part of your entire existence, and therefore need the team to win to feel happy and fulfilled. Obsessive passion is, therefore, a less adaptive stance because your team can never win 100% of the time. Across a series of 3 studies of European football fans, the Canadian researchers examined the contributions of the two types of passion to various outcomes. Obsessive fans were more likely to experience maladaptive emotions such as hate for the opposing team, and they also mocked fans of opposing teams. Harmonious fans were more likely to have high levels of self-esteem and life satisfaction, and more likely to show their feelings in positive fan behaviors, such as celebrating their team’s victories in the streets. Not surprisingly, obsessive fans had poorer relationships with their partners than did harmonious fans.
In other words, identifying yourself almost entirely by the sports team that you follow may not be the best choice for your emotional health… but that doesn’t mean being a fan is, in and of itself, a bad thing. It’s all a matter of balance – and if you’re balanced and find community in your team, all the better.
Just be sure that you’re not arbitrarily excluding people who may be fans just like you. Dr. Stacey Pope at Durham University dug into a world that very few researchers have, and found that, quote:
It is clear that there is a huge diversity of female supporter styles, and that there is a need to move away from distinctions between males as ‘authentic’ and ‘real’ supporters and females as ‘inauthentic’ or not ‘real’ fans. These findings are set against the backdrop of football and rugby union being perceived as very male-dominated, despite one-quarter of football Premier League fans being female, for example.