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Is Performance Linked to Dress?
An article for Athletics Weekly
By Sue Stedman of Sue Stedman Corporate Clothing Limited

It always intrigues me why athletics teams opt to wear a uniform, while others do not.  This is not only true of athletics but many other sports too.  No doubt the reasons are wide ranging, but the crucial issue is surely whether having a uniform can contribute to a team’s chances of success.

Of course there are varying degrees to which a team may be uniformed.  I have designed sportswear which is ‘uniform’ to the greatest possible extent – with co-ordinating socks, belts and luggage as well as shorts, t-shirt and sweatshirt.  On the other hand, some clients prefer simply to issue team members with matching vests, each bearing the team’s logo.

Either way, there is no question that a uniformed team creates a positive first impression, and since 70% of a first impression is visual, clothing is all-important.  In any sport, the visual element is an important one and a coordinated look can greatly benefit the sense of spectacle.  Added to that, sports teams can receive considerable media attention and ensuring that a team is smartly kitted out, preferably displaying its team colours and / or logo, ensures that the team’s branding is effectively communicated in any media coverage.

My experience has also shown me that teams that dress to the same high standard are more likely to play to the same high standard.  Team members, whether amateur or professional, will tend to perform with a greater degree of professionalism when they are smartly dressed and wearing appropriate clothing.  This doesn’t only apply to individual performance though:  teamwork is so much better and when individual members can literally see that they all belong to the same team they will tend to perform with greater loyalty and a sense of purpose. 

There are other ways in which a uniform can directly benefit the team’s success.  On a very basic level, some teams may choose to have a uniform simply because it ensures that clothes worn are appropriate – durable, comfortable, and suitable for extreme weather conditions.   Secondly a uniform can directly communicate factual information such as the player’s name and position, which can be beneficial to other team members.  In athletics, particularly running, visibility is important and a uniform which stands out is a real benefit. 

Does the colour of a team’s clothing have any impact on its 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. 

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 footballers generally play in red but when the team played their final game at the 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.

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.

Although not yet commonplace, athletics kit will one day have the advantage of communicating information electronically.  In the US, basketball vests are being with electro luminescent displays that show a player's score and number of fouls.  The vests can also display more general information, like the amount of time left in a game. This gives players greater confidence in their team's tactics, say the researchers involved.

The simple, coloured display panels are attached to each vest and connected to a small computer, about the size of an iPod, strapped to each player's body. These computers communicate wirelessly with a central control system, installed at the side of the court, which keeps track of all relevant statistics as the game goes on.

I have designed uniforms for many sports teams in the past, and an interesting trend that I have observed is that in the case of several amateur teams, board members or supporters will personally fund a uniform for the team because they too are convinced that a uniform will result in greater success.

Of course I am biased but I have no doubt whatsoever that the wearing of a uniform contributes to a team’s success, not only in terms of the points they score but in so many other ways, such as looking good, putting on a good ‘performance’, satisfying players, supporters and sponsors and communicating the team’s strength.

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