Game Face

2 May

We have a big game this Saturday.  A BIG game.  A game my team has been preparing to win for years.  As such, I thought a pre-game tip was in order.

So we’re clear, my team LOVES smiling.  We’re all sort of hippies, who like to bake and get along and throw theme parties and all that good stuff.

This is our typical face:

Photo courtesy of David Crane

Photo courtesy of David Crane

In researching how to beat our rivals, I came across this interesting study, which I think has carry-over into derby. Two recent researchers studied the images of MMA fighters and their win records. Those smiling in their pre-fight meet-up were more likely to lose the match.

The researchers, Michael Kraus and Teh-Way David Chen, had coders who were unaware of the purpose of the study, look for smiles and smile intensity in photographs of 152 fighters in 76  UFC pre-bout face-offs. Data on the fights was then obtained from official UFC statistics.

The researchers wanted to test the idea that, in the pre-fight context, smiles are an involuntary signal of submission, just like teeth-baring is in animals.  Just like they predicted, the more fighters smiled, the more likely they were to lose.  Fighters with neutral facial expressions were more likely to dominate the following day’s match.

Hmmm, so maybe the smiling is not so much a tool that helps keep us loose and relaxed, as an unconscious show of nerves.

Perhaps not surprisingly, smaller fighters smiled more often than larger fighters.  I might be what you call a “smaller fighter”.

Building on the initial data,  Kraus and Chen asked 178 online, non-experts to rate the aggression and physical dominance of the same fighter either smiling or expressionless in a pre-match face-off.  Smiling fighters were consistently rated as less dominant.  The follow-up data suggests that not only is smiling before competition a subconscious signal of submission, it’s one that your opponent can pick up on.

That’s tough.  As I said, I love smiling.  But, as far as this game is concerned, I love winning more.  So, on the track the only face you’re going to see is this one:

Photo courtesy of David Crane

Photo courtesy of David Crane

But before you put your lovely smile entirely on the shelf in the name of derby dominance, here’s a follow-up:  You need that smile to better recover from stress.

Like I said in my last post, we’ve got cursing to help us stand the pain of the game during the bout, neutral expressions to demonstrate our physical prowess pre-bout – what about post-bout?

Post-bout, put those pearly whites on display.

In an research report, by Tara Kraft and Sarah Pressman (2012) studied 169 college students.  They hooked them up to a heart rate monitor, and had them spend two minutes doing a difficult task, using their non-dominant hand to trace a star-shaped design without going off a provided outline, using only a mirror image to guide them, having been given unrealistic predictions of accuracy.  They also made participants put their hands in ice-cold water (what is it with scientists and these water tests?).  Stressful, right?

Here’s the meat of the experiment – The participants were divided into groups: Some forcing their faces intro neutral with chopsticks, some forcing mouth-only smiles with chopsticks, and some forcing Duchenne smile (both mouth and eyes) with chopsticks. Duchenne smiles are generally regarded as “genuine” smiles.  Within the “smiling” groups, half were told they were supposed to be smiling, half were just told how to position their faces.

Regardless of their awareness, smiling participants returned to their pre-stress heart rate more quickly than those with neutral expressions, and the Duchenne group recovered slightly more quickly than the mouth-only group. If you’re looking for a more complete recovery after an exhausting bout, make sure to smile it up.

What did I learn from all of this reading?  Keep your game face on.  It actually does make a difference.  I liken it to walking into a room with your power stance (neutral spine and pelvis, arms relaxed and by your sides, feet shoulder width apart).  When you carry yourself with power, in your body, in your face; you will feel more powerful.

In derby, we can use all the confidence boosters we can find.  Returning to neutral face is an easy one to employ, and one that you can use to reset after each jam.  Bad call?  Nasty hit?  Miss an obvious play?  Let it go, and clear your face.  Make it a routine, and before you know it, those tough moments won’t phase you quite so much.

Time to get your game face on.

Smiling – save it for the afterparty.

Here is my after-party face:

Photo courtesy of Nick H.

Photo courtesy of Nick H.

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One Response to “Game Face”

  1. DD May 3, 2013 at 8:47 am #

    you’ll always be my fighter/serious/party face!!!!

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