OUR GAME: One color rises above the rest for success in soccer – Red

OUR GAME: One color rises above the rest for success in soccer – Red


Want to be a winner in soccer? Apparently RED is the most-likely color to help you get there. Not red cards, either. We are talking about team colors and uniform choices.

Studies have been done on the effects of kit colors on team performance. The Science of Soccer took note with a recap, revealing red does best.

In the first study, researchers compiled records over 57 years, from 1947 through 2003, for the top 68 ranked teams in the English professional leagues. They categorized the teams based on their home kit. Whether they wore jerseys that were primarily red, blue, white or yellow/orange (this information was obtained from http://www.historicalkits.co.uk/ ). If color had no effect on match outcome, the number of wins would not differ between the groups of jersey color.


(See more “Our Game” entries here.)

The researchers found that teams who wear red at home had better home records than would be expected by chance. Three of the four teams with the best home records wore red.

The authors of the first study note other studies that have shown a link between competitive performance and wearing red. In 2005, they examined the results of Olympic events such as judo, boxing and wrestling where one competitor is required to wear a red uniform and the other blue. In these sports, the trend is that the red competitor is more often victorious. The present study is the first to suggest a similar “color effect” for team sports.


As if this isn’t enough of a head-scratcher, another article, this one from 2010, reveals that goalkeepers who wear red are more likely to stop penalty kicks.

Soccer players are less likely to score on a penalty shot if the goalie is wearing red, a new study shows.

Researchers examined the performance and expectation of success of 40 university soccer players shooting against goalies wearing different-colored shirts. Each of the players took a total of 20 shots, 10 against a goalie wearing a shirt with black stripes and 10 against a goalie wearing a shirt with either blue, yellow, green or red stripes.

Before they took their shots, the players were asked to estimate how many goals they would score and how confident they were of their estimate.

The color of the goalie’s shirt didn’t affect how many goals a player believed he would score. However, the scoring success rate was lowest against a goalie in red (54 percent), followed by yellow (69 percent), blue (72 percent), and green (75 percent).

“These findings lend support to the idea that red clothing could give a sportsperson or team a small but meaningful advantage [one penalty in five] in a competitive encounter,” study author Iain Greenlees, of the University of Chichester, said in a news release.

Referees wear red. Power and control?
Referees wear red. Power and control?

The Dutch, whose national team wears orange, can look to these statements from researchers in their own country.

“We do believe in the effect of red. Red is associated with anger, fear and failure in human societies; in many animals red increases the likelihood of winning. Yet, the findings of Hill and Barton (in 2005) that athletes in red win more often in four combat sports requires a re-evaluation, because their analysis may also be confounded by similar factors as described in our study for judo. Ultimately, experimental work is needed (also for the presumed lack of an effect of blue-white) to determine whether color biases winning in human sport.”

Wearing orange, stopping penalty kicks.
Wearing orange, stopping penalty kicks.

Which is the more successful club in Liverpool? Everton (blue) or Liverpool? How about in Manchester? United (red) or City (blue?) Are these just coincidences? How seriously should we take the power of color? (The historical answer in both cases is red. United and Liverpool are the two winningest clubs in English Football history.)

This article says, hold your horses just one minute: “When things go wrong or when you feel that the situation you are in is problematic, you are more likely to pay attention to detail, which helps you with processing tasks but interferes with creative types of things,” said Norbert Schwarz, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan. By contrast, “people in a happy mood are more creative and less analytic.”

Many people link red to problematic things, like emergencies or mistakes on tests, experts say. Such “associations to red – stop, fire, alarm, warning – can be activated without a person’s awareness, and then influence what they are thinking about or doing,” said John Bargh, a psychology professor at Yale. “Blue seems a weaker effect than red, but blue skies, blue water are calm and positive, and so that effect makes sense, too.”

Still, said Schwarz, there are caveats. “In some contexts red is a dangerous thing, and in some contexts red is a nice thing,” he said. “If you’re walking across a frozen river, blue is a dangerous thing.”


2 thoughts on “OUR GAME: One color rises above the rest for success in soccer – Red

  1. Rubbish. It’s just that a few top teams in England (Man Utd, Liverpool, Arsenal) and all three top teams in the Netherlands (Ajax, PSV, Feyenoord) wear red.

    In the Spanish league you’ll find all-white teams (Real Madrid, Valencia) do better than all red teams (Mallorca, Zaragoza); and in Italy you’ll find that wearing stripes (Juventus, AC Milan, Inter) helps you beat those without them (Napoli, Roma, Fiorentina).

    Should we sacrifice goats and pray to a sky-god (oh yeah, some people actually still do that)?

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