Home-field advantage is a prevalent concept in sports. According to one research paper on the topic, “Home advantage is the term used to describe the consistent finding that home teams in sport competitions win over 50 percent of the games played under a balanced home and away schedule.”
The concept makes sense. You know your field or court better, fans are cheering for you, and the result should be that you will perform better.
In fact, extensive research says that home-field advantage, while advantageous, is not as significant we think.
According to an article by John Paulsen, who compared the winning percentage of teams during three regular seasons, the NBA has by far the biggest home-court win percentage with 59.8 percent, followed by the NFL at 56.5 percent, NHL at 55.4 percent and MLB at 54.8 percent.
Last fall, Hillsboro High School football coach Max Heinrichs and Tabor College football coach Mike Gardner were kind enough to respond to my questions about whether there’s a home-field advantage in high school and small-college football.
Heinrichs said that when he was the athletic director, his philosophy was to host every event possible, “because I believed it gave us a better chance to win and advance to the next level of play. Robert Rempel has carried on with that philosophy.
“We believe that if we’re on our own playing surface and going through the same pre-game routines, our athletes are going to be more relaxed and ready to play.
“We host a tremendous amount of KSHSAA events because we have nice facilities and because we’re willing to do so, so we don’t have to travel. It also cuts down on our transportation and lodging costs,” Heinrichs said.
In fact, playing at home is a huge advantage for the younger athletes, according to Heinrichs, just because of crowd support.
“Not many of their classmates travel to watch sub-varsity play at away events,” he said. “I would always rather be at home to compete than to travel on a school bus to another school.”
He doesn’t believe officials pick one team over another, but Heinrichs said that it’s always nice to see the officials you are familiar with.
“When you travel to another part of the state, you never know what kind of officials you may run into,” Heinrichs said.
For Heinrichs, there’s no better place to play than at home.
Coach Gardner also sees some advantages to playing at home.
“Younger teams seem to do better at home at maintaining momentum rather than recovering it as it flows. Younger players are also much more comfortable playing where they practice,” he said.
Additional advantages to playing at home, according to Gardner, are the potential of better interaction with officials on your sideline, no travel, a consistent schedule and fewer potential distractions.
On the flip side, Gardner says a team can get complacent playing at home.
One advantage to playing on the road is an “us vs. the world with only one focus.” In his eyes, a disadvantage is travel fatigue and potentially being out of rhythm for game day.
“Officials are much more likely to flag poor technique on a play if the play is close,” Gardner said. He cited outside-edge holding on running plays or quarterback scrambles.
“Judgments favor older players or players who have better technique,” Gardner said.
Next time, we’ll wrap up our look at home-court advantage with comments from our local basketball coaches.