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Motivation by Humiliation in Sports

  • The motivation behind shaming others
  • Using shame as motivation
  • Possible responses to shame
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Motivation by humiliation in sports is a long-dispised method due to its inhuman practice. However, we can still connect with it sometimes when it comes to competitive situations. Many of my friends who are playing drums, they hate the movie, Whiplash. The problem is they watch the movie as it was about music. The movie is a sports film and covers a lot about the psychology of humiliation. 

I will take look at the psychology of Whiplash in this article treating it as a sports film. If you didn’t see the movie yet I suggest you watch it or read the plot on IMDB so you get the context of this article. “Andrew: But is there a line? You know, maybe you go too far, and you discourage the next Charlie Parker from ever becoming Charlie Parker? Terence Fletcher: No, man, no. Because the next Charlie Parker would never be discouraged.”

The difference between shame and embarrassment

Shame exists due to the social aspects of humanity. Since our place in the social hierarchy has different benefits, shame comes as a warning signal when our social acceptance changes. With loosing on a sports event, individuals suffer a loss of status in public. This is why shame has a highly determinative role in sports.

We can understand shame as an emotion family, a scale from embarrassment to humiliation. While embarrassment is usually coming from inside, the trigger of humiliation is usually a second people. In Whiplash, when Metz admits that he was off pitch, he feels embarrassment. When Fletcher is firing him with the words:  “I’m not gonna have you cost us a competition because your mind’s on a fucking happy meal instead of on pitch.” He feels humiliation.

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A player feeling humiliated after missing an opportunity on a game. Image by Rob Walker.

Turning humiliation against other’s

There are many cases of “cultures of honor” where aggression is the favorized answer to shame. These cultures are where honor or status is displayed via showing off power and strength. This “culture of honor” identified by David B. Cohen and his colleges can form during sports contests. Especially, when the sport is aiming to reach physical domination. Just think about our latest article on trash-talking in boxing. We certainly can observe some differences between the habitat of a chess-player and a boxer. However, humiliation also occurs inside a team of players, who are playing together for the same goal.

A basic example of motivation by humiliation in sports

Reading online sportsbook news in the US  or watching streams of games we can find many cases, when coaches select multiple people to one role, not to strengthen the lineup, but to evoke competition. Placing you with someone else, making you feel that you are replaceable at any time is the most basic form of motivation by humiliation in sports. Before judging this method just think about capitalism and the role of competition in free-market systems. Being in this artificially provoked existential instability and under immense pressure, athletes’ answer to the situation varies in all the combinations as follows.

The possible responses to humiliation

Withdrawing

According to Ira Nathanson’s model made in 1992, there are four main aspects of the response to humiliation. Facing a situation as this one can respond with withdrawing. In this case, the person approves the message of shame as valid and due to the negative experience, gets discouraged and he is trying to escape the situation. In the movie, Whiplash Fletcher’s idea of achieving greatness is always through sacrifice. One who is responding to shame with withdrawal can’t be the new Charlie Parker. The example I was using to show the difference between embarrassment and humiliation is also a good example of a withdrawing response to shame.

Attack self

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There are different ways of overcoming humiliation. Image by NeuPaddy, Pixabay.

The second possible response is attacking the self. This is when due to the negative experience of shame one turns their anger inside. The worst outcome of this scenario is depression. This is what happens in the fatal case of Sean Casey, Fletcher’s ex-student. The best possible outcome is preventing this negative experience from happening again. The motivation here is to avoid shame by performing better after self-criticism. Unlike during the process of withdrawal where reoccurrence is prevented by quitting.

Attack others

One’s response can be to attack others. In this case, the person trying to avoid shame by denying it and pushing it onto others to justify by other persons feeling inferior.  Here is an example from Whiplash, where Fletcher is trying to give the part to Andrew’s rival.

Andrew: I earned that part.
Terence Fletcher: You never earned anything. God, you are a self-righteous prick. The only reason you are a core is because you misplaced a folder. The only reason you’re in studio band to begin with is because I told you EXACTLY what I’d be asking for in Nassau! Am I wrong?
Andrew: Yeah, yeah. I’m in studio band because I’m the best player…
Ryan: [interrupts] Hey, why don’t you just back off, bro?
Andrew: Hey, you know, fuck off, Johnny Utah! Turn my pages, bitch!

Ignore or avoidance

The last answer to humiliation is ignoring it. Of course, this could never happen in the psychology of Whiplash, but we can see many examples during professional games. The strategy of the victim here is that he is not accepting shame as a negative feeling and decide not to be conscious about it. Maybe they make a joke of the shameful event or just move along without being bothered.

Conclusion on motivation by humiliation in sports in the movie Whiplash

Most of the answers of humiliation are not favorable regarding the performance of the victim. That’s why reading online sportsbook news sites in the US we can find many cases where players (most likely fighters) are trying to humiliate their competitor. But it has some very different aspects if a coach is using this for motivation.

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Which one of them is going to play in Real Madrid? Muhammad M Rahman [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Of course, I am not justifying the methods of Terence Fletcher, neither does the movie Whiplash. The reason why this film is so incredible is that it leads the audience into a contradiction. While we all reject the methods of Fletcher, somehow they validate during the catharsis of the movie. But it’s still a question if Andrew was achieving in terms of art and music or he was just wasting all his motivation to impress a psycho. If you’d like to read more about motivation through humiliation in sports I suggest this great psychological research by Julie Partridge and Jeff Elison.

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