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Colourful Sports
An article for Bowls International
By Sue Stedman of Sue Stedman Corporate Clothing Limited

Bowling is a colourful sport, with most colours of the rainbow reflected in the clothing of various teams around the UK.  But what motivates teams to pick a specific colour, and does the colour of a team’s kit have any bearing on their chances of success?

Certainly colour can have a strong impact on our emotions – this is seen at many different levels.  It is widely believed that red, for example, stimulates the senses and prompts the release of adrenaline into the bloodstream, quickens the heart rate and engenders a sense of excitement. It is recognised as the colour of masculinity and activity, and imposes suggestive confidence on those that are bold enough to wear it.  I have heard that people will gamble more and make riskier bets when seated under a red light as opposed to a blue light – which is why Las Vegas is the city of red neon. 

On the other hand, pastel colours tend to have a calming effect. Pink, in particular, signifies gentle, blissful and extreme pleasure-giving emotions all of which are traditionally feminine qualities. Therefore, few sporting team, female or male, tend to use this colour.

There might also be symbolic reasons behind a choice of colour.  Some sports teams will avoid the use of the colour green, which is sometimes believed to be unlucky.  In other cases, the symbolic use of colour may be more personal.  Arsenal, the British football team, generally plays in red but when it played its final game at its old stadium, opted to wear maroon, for the simple reason that this was the colour of the uniform it wore when it first played there.  In this case colour was connected to nostalgia for both players and fans.

Bowling teams may benefit from bearing in mind that the emotional value of certain colours is different for different individuals.  Recent research revealed that cool colours appeal to women, primary and earth colours appeal to children, pastel colours appeal to sophisticated people, and dark colours appeal to men or older people. Therefore, if teams choose to consider such studies when selecting their colours, they may find that they are more successful when appealing to the largest age group in the surrounding area or supporter base.

Choosing a colour for a team’s uniform is probably the single most important factor in designing sportswear.  Considerations include choosing a colour that would appeal to supporters – no-one wants to be seen to be supporting the worst dressed team.  For similar reasons, a colour which translates into saleable merchandise is a consideration and therefore many sports teams opt for black, the most popular colour for merchandising.  Not many bowls teams play in black, perhaps reflecting the fact that bowls is less bound up with retail than many other sports.  Referencing the club’s origins is important, however, and there are certainly bowls teams which take their colours from the identity of their village or town.

There are many more considerations to be made where sponsorship is involved.  It is crucial that a team’s colours do not clash with those of their sponsors since this could reflect badly – albeit on a subliminal level – on the sponsoring company.  In Formula One, teams have been known to use the colours of tobacco sponsors in their clothing to compensate for the tobacco advertising ban.

Fortunately these limitations are rarely relevant in bowling and perhaps a more relevant challenge is choosing the right colour when no specific colours are ruled out.  The right colour should be, ideally, popular with the team, flattering, eye-catching, practical, powerful and positive.  The colour needs to be visible, and yet avoid showing up the dirt. 

Another important consideration is in choosing the right combination of colours. In fact colour harmony is in many ways more important than the choice of an individual colour.  Whether you're choosing a new kitchen, wrapping a present or arranging flowers, the colours you choose greatly affect your final results.  And yet surprisingly few people consider colour harmony when deciding on clothing, despite the fact that colour disharmony can create vibrating, electric, almost painful effects.

Certainly colours should be selected with consideration of the effects that they have on each other. Many sports teams have failed to recognise the fact that colours placed together can be far more powerful than a colour alone, as they act to intensify each other by appearing to change.

There are specific combinations of colours that when used, produce the best results in terms of appeal and meaning. Complimentary colours indicate that when certain colours are placed together, they act to intensify each other. Blue and orange, yellow, and violet, and red and green all perform in this manner. These colours appear adequate by themselves. However, when employed together, they produce a striking effect.

Red and blue are also colours that flicker together when seen. Ironically, when the colour blue is added to another colour, it acts to cool the effect portrayed. Alternatively, red warms colours. Therefore, when warm and cool combine forces, an eye-catching combination is achieved.

Thus, the impact of colours on one another is an issue that needs to be investigated when making a selection. Alone, colours have the capacity to symbolise meaning, together they have the power to enhance, dull, warm, cool and produce alternative meanings. For this reason, selection of a team’s colours should not only be based on the impact they are expected to have on an individual, but also their effect on each other.

Is there a winning colour?  Research has shown that red is the winning colour.  Certainly the colour associated with fire and war can lead to a surge in testosterone and produce good results in some sports.  A study of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens analysed the colours worn by winners in one-on-one boxing, tae kwon do, Greco-Roman-wresting, and freestyle-wrestling matches and found that when opponents of a game are equally matched, the team dressed in red is more likely to win. In each event Olympic staff randomly assigned red or blue clothing or body protection to competitors. When otherwise equally matched with their opponent in fitness and skill, athletes wearing red were more likely to win.

And red seems to be the colour, across species, that signals male dominance and testosterone levels.  For example, studies show that dominant male mandrills have increased red coloration in their faces and rumps. Another study by other scientists shows that red plastic rings experimentally placed on the legs of male zebra finches increase the birds' dominance.

If red is in fact the winning colour in nature, then I’d say that colour is very significant importance to sporting teams.

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