The Psychology Behind Colors in Sports: How They Matter

Grand ice hockey collage with professional players on the white background

Color therapists and psychologists have studied colors and the human psyche for decades. Their findings state that colors have had a deep impact on humans, dating back to thousands of years. The colors we like and wear often give an insight into our personality, and they have the power to change how we feel and uplift our mood.

Not surprisingly, sports therapists and researchers have also studied colors in an attempt to find out how and if colors influence the results. Research on sports colors has garnered a great deal of attention ever since Frank and Gilovich found in 1988 that teams in black were considered to be more malevolent or intimidating than teams in non-black.

Let us study how colors affect sports performance and the psychology behind sports dress colors.


red colored sports jersey and man wearing helmet

In 2005, Hill and Barton published the result of their study to show the effect of the color red in sports such as tae-kwon-do, Greco-Roman wrestling, boxing, and freestyle wrestling. They based their findings on the analysis done at the 2004 Olympics. The duo found that when combatants wore red, they won significantly more matches than when they wore blue. This was based on combatants with comparable rankings. According to Shirley J. Wenrich, author of the book All the Colors of Life: From the History and Mystery of Color, red is the best color for sports as it represents energy and vitality. Similarly, in the book Power of Color by Robert Gerard, red and other colors like yellow and orange spark energy and enthusiasm. Red in sports also increases athletic performance.


Young Boys in Blue and Red Soccer Jersey Shirts and Soccer Cleats Kicking Soccer Ball. Football Tournament for Youth Soccer Clubs Academies. School Soccer Competition

Blue is a calming color in sports. It represents a team or individual that is honest, calm, truthful, and sincere. The color can have a calming effect on the team players as well as opponents. However, as per the study that was done in the 2004 Olympics mentioned above, blue could reduce one’s chances of winning at combative sports.


American football player wearing black helmet and jersey serving the ball in motion isolated over white background

As stated before, research by Frank and Gilovich in 1988 showed that teams in black were rather intimidating than those in other colors. However, teams that wore black were also known to be penalized more often in the National Hockey League and National Football League than any other team colors. Frank and Gilovich believed that the black influence is more from cultural connotations of black. People see black uniforms, and they immediately expect violence. There are a lot of stereotypes associated with black. Racism plays a role here since aggression is often tied to African Americans. At the same time, a priest also wears black, but in his case, black suddenly starts being associated with a totally different social meaning. So black is not intrinsically evil; it just takes on a particular cultural meaning within particular contexts.


soccer team orange t shirts

Orange is inexorably linked to radiant energy. In sports, orange is a great color as it symbolizes strength and endurance. This theatrical color is closely linked to red but is less intense than its fiery cousin. It is little wonder that orange is associated with warmth and the earth. Sports teams and the youth heartily accept this trendy color that combines strength and wisdom.


yellow team huddle

Yellow is the radiant and energetic color of sunshine and warmth. There is no individual who would not feel cheered and comforted when surrounded by vibrant yellow. This is also applicable to sports. Yellow makes for one of the best sports dress colors as it helps where mind power is needed. Many countries use yellow as their official sports jersey color. Studies show that yellow is associated with cheerful, enthusiastic, vibrant, exciting, and stimulating. It is almost never associated with ‘despondent’ or ‘unhappy’. In short, it is one of the best colors for lifting spirits and letting the sunshine in. In cricket, Australian teams almost always wear yellow.


mid section of a hurling player holding a hurling stick and helmet.

For centuries, green has been associated with wealth and health. It also stands for life and the environment. In sports, green represents the will to win and be cheerful. Pakistan’s cricket team is always dressed in green, and so is that of Bangladesh. This is because; both nations, which are primarily Muslim countries, have green flags. The color is very important in Islam. Green also stands for re-growth, regeneration, and renewal.


Football player in an indigo uniform

Indigo is a great color for those individuals or teams that wish to enhance their sense of intuition, focus on personal issues and address problems that may be affecting performance. Indigo is a blend of blue and violet. It can be considered as the deeper and brighter shade of blue or as royal blue. The color represents patriotism and is useful when you need a little magic. This neutral and objective color may be associated with separateness or ‘distance’.


Violet soccer jersey front and back

Violet, which consists of both red and blue, may help with endurance and inner strength. It is a color that burns negativity and makes new growth possible. It also represents someone who still believes in magic. Violet is not the best of sports dress colors as it indicates a team or individual that is both sensitive and unrealistic in their goals and desires.


A lot more research is needed to study the exact influence colors can have on sports. Basic research has shown that the uniform color of professional sports teams is related to how aggressively the teammates play the game, as measured by how frequently they are penalized. Black is one sports color that tends to get heavily penalized. In fact, teams that normally wore other colors, upon switching to black, showed a dramatic increase in penalties. One line of thought here could be the fact that the players wearing black do not really play aggressively but may simply be more likely to be penalized for actions that would be ignored if performed by players wearing non-black uniforms.