Tennis: The Presence of a Scoreboard Gives the Favorite an Advantage

Tennis: The Presence of a Scoreboard Gives the Favorite an Advantage

Dick Moss, Editor, Physical Education

While physical education students will seldom use one, varsity tennis players may play in facilities in which a scoreboard publicly displays the score of their game.

The presence of such a scoreboard can affect the results of your players' games. A study recently reported in the journal, "Medicine and Science in Tennis," has shown that the presence of a scoreboard provides an advantage to the favorite or higher-ranked player.

Here's why.

The Study - Purpose
The study examined statistics from 10 years of professional tennis and found that, in certain situations, the favorite or more highly ranked players tended to lift their level of play and win the next set. These situations were:

  • When they had just won a set.
  • When they had just lost two sets in a row.
  • When they were behind in the set score.

The researchers wanted to find out how much of this effect was due to the players' ability and how much was due to psychological effects caused by the presence of the scoreboard. They performed a statistical analysis that compared the winning percentages of players who could not observe a scoreboard versus games when the scoreboard was observed.

The presence of a scoreboard improved the higher ranked players chances of winning a match by 4.2%. This was due to psychological factors rather than ability. It was believed that the presence of the scoreboard produced the following psychological effects that benefited the more highly ranked players. 1. It increased the anxiety level of the lower-ranked players, leading to less effective play and an advantage for their higher ranked competitors. Because they may not have had the confidence to believe they could win, seeing their lead displayed on the scoreboard was disconcerting for the lower-ranked players. 2. It increased the level of play for the higher-ranked players. Seeing a visual display that they were losing produced a "back to the wall" effect, that resulted in increased effort and concentration.

Be sure to discuss this effect with your players, especially if they enter a game as the lower-ranked player. Tell them that focusing on the score will reduce the flow of their game. Also tell them to be prepared to feel extra anxiety because of the scoreboard, and that it may occur both when they see they have a lead and are behind on points. They should realize that this is natural and that they should divert their focus from the board and the score and just concentrate on their play. If necessary, tell them to ignore the scoreboard completely.

Reference: Dr. Tristan Barnett ( Swinburne University of Technology, Australia) Rod Cross (Dept of Physics, Sydney University, Australia), "How the Tennis Scoreboard Affects Player Performance." Medicine and Science in Tennis, September 2007.

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