When considering college sports, a common complaint by fans and coaches about games against “nobody” teams is that “we played down to the level of our opponents.” I’ve noticed that a little bit as well in some of my athletic situations. Let me give a few examples.
Recently on the Husker Hoops Central forums, there was a thread about people who had played basketball at the Coliseum or Devaney Sports Center on campus. I recalled some times where my intramural basketball team was clearly inferior and lost by mercy rule. But, in my final game of my career, it was a playoff game and my team only had 3 people show up, which was enough to play. Obviously, it did not go well… but we “only” lost by 26. The opponents were probably playing down to our level.
The case where I notice this much more saliently is bowling. When I was at UNL, I was on a bowling league not affiliated with the University. My average, which started at about 120, rose to 135 after three years. I haven’t bowled very often while I have been in Chicago, so I can’t get those high scores anymore. However, I still virtually always break 100.
When with friends that want to go bowling, however, I notice that my performance seems to be more in line with theirs… or at least if I am at a higher level than them, it’s not super-embarrassing to bowl with me. This weekend, I bowled with a friend, and although she had a bad first and third game, the second one was quite competitive. Nonetheless, it was fun, because though it was a “competition” of sorts, it was non-competitive–just a way to have some fun.
It’s the idea of social facilitation or social inhibition, which I learnt about in psychology class. The classic example that was given: make a non-basketball player shoot a free throw in an empty gym, versus, say, at a halftime or media-timeout promotion at a packed game. They will probably miss the shot at the game that they would make in an empty gym.
What other situations do you tend to get social facilitation or inhibition in? Do you play to the level of your opponents in sports and other games if you perceive them as weaker?