In a recent survey for the Barclay’s Spaces For Sports project, Portsmouth’s back-flipping striker Lomana Lua-Lua was deemed to have the greatest celebration in the history of the Premiership, closely followed by Robbie Keane’s cartwheel celebration and Klinsmann’s ironic dive.
Celebrations have become part of the DNA of sporting endeavour. The solid handshake or ‘high fives’ have become too common currency and form no real part of the modern goal celebration.
Even after the most fortuitous goal imaginable, there must be jumping, hugging and kissing, for it is by such means that the players recognise their collective accomplishments.
The psychology of sports celebration is very much a reflection of individual personality within a group context, but will be heightened by circumstance.
Goal celebrations, in particular, tend not be manifestations of false modesty or the apparent need to show off; they may have other roots.
Clearly, there is a genuine need to express feelings for a fleeting moment of joy and to entertain or antagonise insatiable crowds. As such, it will reinforce their sense of superiority.
Obviously, a demonstration of bonding, which might include the ultimate symbol of loyalty, badge kissing [equally despised and lauded by fans], will reinforce a team ethic and in some circumstances will prove a point to the players’ own management, or supporters.
Displays of agility above and beyond normality are both entertaining and part of a virtuous circle which absorbs players, fans, management and the club.
Such is the need to be seen to celebrate that we hear of players practising their goal rituals in advance of games. For some it seems to add to the incentive to score, particularly if the recent birth of a child needs to be publicly signified. It seems that without such public displays an event is not truly experienced, or will hardly have happened.
Here are some of the different styles of celebration that have become part of the games fabric:
The Political: In which the player makes a ‘statement’, which has an impact beyond the sporting arena – Fowler, Paulo Di Canio, Gazza.
The Gymnast: In which the player’s agility is made manifest in an extravagant display of gymnastics. – Sanchez, Agahowa, Beagrie, Lua Lua, Keane.
The Assassin: In which the player’s understated celebration informs us of their cool, clinical mind-set and the intimation of unfinished business – Shearer, Henry, Law.
The Diver: In which the player make an ironic statement or a demonstration of extreme machismo and physicality – Klinsmann, Kuqi.
Rock ‘n’ Roll: In which the player uses the corner flag, ‘creatively’, to mimic a musical entertainer – Sharpe, Drogba, Milla.
The Poseur: In which the player or group of players take the centre stage in a dramatic, well rehearsed pose – Di Matteo, Cantona.
Family: In which the birth of a child is celebrated, through cradling gestures – Lampard, Bebeto, Raul.
The Extravert: In which shirt removing/waving becomes an art form – Giggs, Ravenelli, Chastain.robbie fowler
The Rude Boys: In which the player simulates slightly unsavoury acts – Fowler, Ronaldo, Finidi George.
The Insouciant: In which the player appears to insult opposing fans – Lampard, Torres, Ronaldinho, Moeller.
However, there is a developing contrary school of thought, which suggests that the celebration can be counter productive. How many times do we witness good work undone by simple lapses in concentration?
The scoring team, intoxicated from celebration euphoria, allow their focus to be diluted, exposing a critical weakness that predatory opponents take critical advantage of.
When a team scores a goal late on whilst chasing the game, the scorer will often pick the ball out of the net and run urgently back to the centre-circle, anxious for the game to restart and for the new found momentum to continue.
What if the team, when they score, simply walk straight back to the centre circle, unemotional, contained, focus intact. No celebration, calm, cool and calculated.
The Sports Psychology Summary
This would send out a clear message of, ‘there is more where that came from’. Pressure and intensity would be maintained and a ruthlessness commensurate with clinical performance would be developed.and perhaps signal the beginning of the end for the era of the contrived celebration.