How athletic performance is enhanced by love

Being in love is euphoric. It’s characterized by intense passion, increased energy, and obsessive thoughts. These characteristics parallel the qualities of high performance athletes. That is, both people in love and athletes have high passion, energy, and obsessive thoughts, whether toward their sport or partner. Given the overlap, do athletes perform better or worse when in love?To answer this question, I interviewed athletes at the Olympic Games. Their sentiment was that being in love overwhelmingly helped their performance. But when I prompted them for further information, their reasoning surprised me. They indicated that romantic partners helped with mundane tasks such as housework, which freed up the athletes’ time and energy for training. The effects of love, therefore, were practical and not derived from the elation of a passionate relationship.

Based on this information, I shifted my focus to examine how distinct types of love impact performance. Researchers have differentiated between passionate and commitment-based love, for example. Passion refers to the intense sexual attraction that brings people together, whereas commitment involves a conscious decision to remain with a partner for the long-term. Using this model, I found that although both types of love are strongly associated with enhanced performance, the strongest predictor is commitment. That is, athletes who are in committed relationships experience the greatest positive impact on their sport.

This finding explains why Tiger Woods experienced positive outcomes in his profession after recently announcing his relationship with Linsday Vonn. Recall that Tiger’s career was soaring high until his marriage took a plunge. His performance suffered for years until this new romance blossomed. Shortly after making a public declaration of his commitment to Vonn, Tiger secured first place in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, which represented a third victory in 2013, and put him back on top of the golf rankings.

But love doesn’t always have positive effects on performance. If things aren’t going well in a relationship, the negative outcomes spill into other areas of life, including athletics. This was confirmed by the Olympic athletes in my study, who noted that the type of relationship largely determined the impact of love on their sport. In other words, partners who were jealous of the time athletes spent training, or insecure and questioning of the athletes’ whereabouts, tended to detract from their performance. This finding parallels other studies indicating that supportive relationships with family members, friends, teammates, and coaches all serve to enhance performance. The bottom line is, good relationships make us better in various facets of life, whereas bad ones sap our energy. It is important to choose partners wisely and work on existing relationships to make them happy and healthy. Evidence shows that you’ll reap the benefits in a variety of domains!

© Copyright Kelly Campbell, Ph.D., All rights Reserved.
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Dr Campbell is an Associate Professor at the University of Georgia specialising in human development and interpersonal relationships. Her research interests are broadly focused on interpersonal relationships and ethnic minority families. Within interpersonal relationships, Dr Campbell is interested in how chemistry operates in friendships and romantic relationships, and how being in love helps and/or hinders performance across domains (e.g., academics, athletics, creativity).She also has other lines of research in the areas of couple rituals, infidelity, and the meaning of marriage. For ethnic minority families, She is interested in health disparities and has recently examined the Latino paradox, which is that Latinos tend to fare better than European Americans in terms of health outcomes, despite being over-represented among low income groups. Dr Campbell also teaches courses on intimate relationships (HD 550), race and racism (SSCI 316), personality (PSYC 385), parenting (PSYC 303 and HD 690), and advanced human development (HD 480). Grants, Honors, and Awards Outstanding Teaching Award, International Association for Relationship Research, 2012 Faculty Professional Development Mini-Grant – Love and Functioning Across Domains: An Examination of Academics and Athletics. California State University, San Bernardino, May, 2011 Innovative Course Development Grant – Student Learning and Racial Understanding: How Technology Can Help. California State University, San Bernardino, April, 2011 Faculty Fellow: Research Infrastructure in Minority Institution Program 1P20MD002722, National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities, Period of Funding: September, 2010 – August, 2012 Outstanding Teaching Award, Department of Psychology, California State University, San Bernardino, Spring 2011 Action Teaching Award, Honorable Mention, Social Psychology Network, February 2011 Representative Publications Campbell, K., Garcia, D., Granillo, C., & Chavez, D. V. (in press). Exploring the Latino paradox: How socioeconomic and immigration status impact health. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences. Silva, L., Campbell, K., & Wright, D. W. (in press). Intercultural relationships: Entry, adjustment, and cultural negotiation. Journal of Comparative Family Studies. Campbell, K., Wright, D. W., & * Flores, C. (2012). Newlywed women’s marital expectations: Lifelong monogamy? Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 53 (2), 108-125. Nazarinia-Roy, R., & Campbell, K. (2012). Feminist perspectives and diversity teaching. Family Science Review, special issue Teaching about Families: Current Reflections on Our Journeys in Family Science Educators, 17 (1), 44-53. Campbell, K., Silva, L., & Wright, D. W. (2011). Rituals in unmarried couple relationships: An exploratory study. Family and Consumer Science Research Journal, 40 (1), 45-57. Campbell, K., & Wright, D. W. (2010). Marriage today: Exploring the incongruence between Americans’ beliefs and practices. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 41 (3), 329-345. Futris, T., G., Campbell, K., Nielsen, R. B., & Burwell, S. (2010). The Communication Patterns Questionnaire-Short Form: A review and assessment. The Family Journal: Counseling and Therapy for Couples and Families, 18 (3), 275-287. Parker, M. L., Berger, A. T., & Campbell, K. (2010). Deconstructing infidelity: A narrative approach for couples in therapy. Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy, 9, 66-82. Kafetsios, K. & Campbell, K. (2009). Measuring non-verbal communication of emotion in personal relationships: The Affect Communication Accuracy Procedure. Scientific Annals of the Psychology Society of Northern Greece, 7, 00-30. Futris, T. G., Van Epp, M., Van Epp, J., & Campbell, K. (2008). The impact of a relationship educational program on single army soldiers. Journal of Family and Consumer Science Research, 36, 328-349. Campbell, K., & Ponzetti, J. J. (2007). The moderating effects of rituals on commitment in premarital involvements. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 22, 1-14. Wright, D. W., Simmons, L., & Campbell, K. (2007). Does a marriage ideal exist? Using Q-Sort methodology to compare young adults’ and therapists’ views on healthy marriages. Contemporary Family Therapy, 29, 223-236. Research in the Media A variety of media outlets have featured Dr campbell’s research including an NBC affiliate television station (KVOA), CBS radio, TMZ radio, Men’s Health and Women’s Health magazines, Cosmopolitan magazine, SELF magazine, and Inland Empire magazine.