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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Alyson Crozier, Senior Lecturer, Exercise and Sport Psychology, University of South Australia

The FIFA Women’s World Cup is held just once every four years, and for the first time ever, it’s on home soil for Australia and New Zealand.

So will the host nations’ sides, the Matildas and the Football Ferns, have a “home ground advantage”?

A home advantage is often touted by sports fans, the media, coaches and athletes, and data suggests it’s a real phenomenon.

But a host nation team hasn’t won the Women’s World Cup since the United States back in 1999.

Here’s why the concept of home ground advantage isn’t straightforward.

Read more:
Penalties, passes, and a touch of politics: the Women’s World Cup is about to kick off

What the data says

The concept of the home advantage can be traced back as far as the 1870s, around the time the first professional sports leagues formed. Back then, data suggested teams experienced more success when playing at home than away.

One study looked at win-loss records in top domestic sport leagues across 65 countries between 2011 and 2015, and found most professional sports experience a home advantage. Basketball, handball and rugby union had the strongest home advantage, winning between 58-60% of their points at home. For men’s football, teams won 56.5% of their points at home.

In women’s football leagues across Europe, research between 2004 and 2010 found the home ground advantage was slightly weaker, averaging 54.2% of points won at home compared with around 60% for men’s leagues. It’s not yet known why this difference exists.

Read more:
Without crowds, football teams still have a home advantage – new study

The home team in football tends to take more risks and is more proactive than away teams, and gets positive reinforcement from the crowd.

Away teams tend to attack less, attempt fewer shots, put in fewer crosses, and score fewer goals.

3 key factors

Academic research has spent considerable time exploring the factors related the home advantage.

There are three main factors that stand out.

1. The crowd effect

When playing at home, the crowd is usually filled with home fans wanting to see a big win. But as the number of supportive crowd members increases, there’s also a larger expectation placed on the team and individual athletes to perform well.

Researchers have been interested in how crowd size and density impact the home advantage. Results are mixed, but there’s some evidence to suggest that as average attendance at football games increases, the home advantage may also increase.

As crowds typically have more supporters for the home team, referees are thought to subconsciously favour the home team when making officiating decisions.

Research from Germany found crowd noise caused more referee decisions in favour of the home team. The away side is generally given more yellow cards. The authors say these effects correlate with the density of the crowd, such that the more dense (and presumably therefore louder) the home crowd is, the more likely it is the away team will receive more yellow cards.

Other research from England found “home teams consistently received fewer cards and converted more penalty kicks than visiting teams”.

When there were no crowds during the 2020 European football season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, research found the portion of home advantage that comes through referee decisions was eliminated.

It also found fewer yellow and red cards were given to away teams in this period. The authors say they “interpret these results to mean that crowds influence referee judgements about how severe an infraction is”.

2. The location matters

Disadvantages for the away team include disruptions to routine, unfamiliarity with the venue and conditions, longer travel times, and less support.

By playing at home, the Matildas and Football Ferns will experience familiar sights and sounds. They won’t need to speak a different language to communicate, they will be closer to family and friends, and they won’t have to adjust to a large time zone difference. Not having to contend with a new environment can be an advantage for the home team.

Research suggests these factors can support what are called “superior psychological states”, such as greater confidence in the self and the team.

3. Every player perceives pressure differently

When trying to understand the home advantage, it’s important not to overlook the individual athlete. While for some, playing at home may be viewed as motivating and inspiring, for others it creates extra pressure and anxiety.

Whether playing at home or away, another factor to consider is what’s at stake. Because many teams will only play three matches before being eliminated, each match of the world cup will hold great importance, with the outcome having consequences for each team.

For some players, higher stakes may present a threat, which may lead to greater anxiety and lower performance.

But other athletes might view added pressure as an opportunity to perform. Research shows such players experience much more “adaptive” thoughts, emotions and behaviours, meaning they’re more able to cope with the demands and thrive.

So, will our football stars from Australia and New Zealand be saying “there’s no place like home” when the world cup finishes? Let’s watch and see.

The Conversation

Amber Mosewich is an Associate Professor at the University of Alberta whose role involves research, teaching, and academic service. She receives funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Sport Participation Research Initiative.

Alyson Crozier does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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