The Psychology Behind the 'Look Good, Feel Good, Play Good' Philosophy


According to Massachusetts General Hospital clinical psychologist Jonathan Jenkins, when you look good, your performance might actually get a boost.

From the commonly misconstrued to the outright false, US Lacrosse Magazine goes “Myth Busters”​ mode in its September/October edition. Don’t get the mag? Join US Lacrosse today to start your subscription.

We’ve heard it before. It’s an accepted truth in sports: If you look good, you’ll play “good.” Whether you’re sporting a new pair of shoes and matching socks, or throwing on a slick new jersey, your performance automatically improves.

Sounds great in theory — and we’ve all experienced a boost at some point in our playing lives — but are there facts to back up that looking good translates to anything on the field?

We spoke with Massachusetts General Hospital clinical psychologist Jonathan Jenkins, who played lacrosse at Division III Guilford College (N.C.), and he shed some light on the phenomenon. According to Jenkins, what you wear — and conversely what your opponent wears — can affect your performance on the lacrosse field.

In the world of sports psychology, the “look good, play good” idea boils down to two terms: enclothed cognition and self-efficacy. 

Enclothed cognition is the influence that clothing — what you are wearing or what someone else may be wearing — has on a person’s emotions. Clothes have a symbolic meaning, and a person can have different physical experiences with different articles of clothing.

Confused? Jenkins broke down a scenario on the lacrosse field.

“When you were playing lacrosse and you’re wearing your practice pinnie versus your game jersey, there seems to be a difference of energy for when you’re wearing that game jersey,” he said. “You’re playing the same sport and doing the same activities, but because you’re actually putting your game jersey on, you feel a little bit more hype and swagger in your step.”

Jenkins also noted that your opponents’ appearance can also hinder your performance. If you perceive your opponent as looking good, it can be intimidating and have an adverse affect on your performance.

This philosophy spans not only sports, but also other professions. Doctors wearing lab coats may have the same effect as players putting on their game jerseys.

Let’s not forget our lucky charms, which many can’t play without — like Adelphi’s Kate Beier, who forgot her white headband ahead of the Division II title game and had to have it driven to her. This superstition can contribute to what is called self-efficacy.

Self-efficacy, which can apply to many different situations, is defined by Jenkins as “the ability to have determination in self that whatever current challenge you’re undergoing, that you feel confident enough to perform it at a high level.”

With a lucky headband, stick, pair of shoes, etc., players feel as though they will be more effective. It worked for Michael Jordan, who couldn't play without his North Carolina shorts under his Chicago Bulls shorts.

So a players’ appearance can actually affect his or her performance. This is one myth that actually proved to be kind of true.

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