Youth Coaches & Players — Celebrate! Fiero is the (Emotional) Stamp

Kevin Votaw
4 min readMay 23, 2022


Photo by Dorian Hurst on Unsplash

The variety of experiences in athletics is not an unemotional affair.

Winning and losing, succeeding and failing generates a wide range of emotions.

Contrastingly, flow is mostly stoic in its very nature characterized by its selflessness, timelessness, effortlessness, and (information) richness as the prefrontal cortex shuts down in transient hypofrontality (75).

But if “the road to attaining goals is beset by emotions” as Finnish game designer Aki Jarvinen claims, and games bring a wide range of emotional reactions, what is on the other side of flow (76)?

The second puzzle piece of an autotelic athletic experience is the realm of emotions, of milestones, of memory. It is all about fiero.

Fiero is feral

Like flow, fiero is fundamental. The Italian word for “pride”, fiero is the unmistakable moment and release of emotions when one succeeds and throws their hands in the air (77).

It is Tigers Woods’ fist pump, Tim Tebow’s kneel, and Brandi Chastain’s iconic post-shot moment during the US women’s soccer championship: shirt off, knees down, fists raised: perfect, picturesque, and primal.

Called the “caveman wiring”, fiero is both what drew our hunter-gatherer ancestors out of the caves and out into the world and the innate craving for challenge, for conquering (78).

The bigger the challenge, the greater the release of fiero, activating the mesocorticolimbic part of the brain which is responsible for our reward and addiction circuitry. Along with this neurological signature, fiero has a physical signature — with massive individual and group benefits.

Generally, fiero is an expressive release of emotions such as happiness, joy, and pride after a positive event such as scoring a goal in soccer (79–82). Feeling, releasing, and expressing these facial and bodily expressions increases confidence, courage, self-esteem, dominance, and superiority (83–86).

The smile seen behind many fieros is immediate and intense, with a .5 to 4-second average response (87). When arms are extended away from the body (below or above the head), fists made, and/or the chest is expanded during soccer penalty shootouts, players and teams are much more likely to win than those that don’t fiero (88).

The researchers from the same study indicated an anti-fiero trait associated with negative effects: players looking downward amidst shots. The numbers are impressive:

  • 82% of players who expanded both their arms ended up on the winning team
  • 79% of players who made fists with both their hands ended up on the winning team
  • 77% of players who puffed out their chest after scoring ended up on the winning team
  • 49% of players who celebrated looking downwards ended up on the losing team

Moments of pride also promote achievement that further signals positive emotion and produces flourishing.

Broaden and build theory suggests building upon these moments versus seeing them as end states in and of themselves (89).

Simply: the more fiero you have, the more fiero you have, because with proper development or an emotional climate open to fiero.


Because fiero brings increased visual attention, reaction time, and ability to process tasks while simultaneously negating anxiety and fear. Therefore, it is not a stretch to suggest that fiero could be a potential flow trigger, one which is socially contagious.

Fiero is contagious

Fiero’s individual benefits are equal to its social benefits because of emotional contagion.

The idea is this: we tend to mimic the body language, movements, and emotions of those around us, and that emotion can transfer to others (90).

In cricket, moments of fiero transferred to teammates produced better performance overall (91). Along with performance, unity, confidence, and cooperation are enhanced and conflict is reduced (92).

Crazier still is that happiness and expressions of fiero are intimidating. Ronglan determined opponents on the other side of fiero signalled defeat after an opponent’s joy (93).

How detrimental can a single fiero be?

In the same soccer shootout study, opponents of a successful kick and signature fiero were 2.35 times more likely to miss the next kick. But the display of fiero affects outcomes before and after a single event — a lot longer.

Before a penalty kick, those without expressive body language were rushed in their preparation and avoided eye contact, leading to decreased performance (94–96).

Alternately, a prolonged gaze towards goal keepers induced the intimidation mentioned earlier, shaking the goalies and impacting eventual outcomes (97).

The most famous pre-event ritual would be the haka of the New Zealand All Blacks, which demonstrates that the dominant and superiority signals, ritualistic power posing, can increase team bonding and identity (98).

Consistent fiero after an event, over time, has equally staggering numbers. Kraus, Huang, and Kelter studied how often NBA players touched each other during the 2008–2009 season (99).

Prolonged fiero at the beginning of the year clearly and consistently predicted later-season cooperation and performance. Winning teams touch roughly 50% more than losing teams, improving trust and cooperation between teammates.

Just as looking down is negatively correlated to fiero, Bornstein and Goldschmidt note that team-oriented behaviors — celebrating together — lead to better performance and wins versus self-oriented celebrations (100).

The adage to “act like you’ve been there before” is dead.

Instead, celebrate everything.

Act like you’ve never been there before: the more expressive, the more style, and the more physically team-focused, the better, because milestones and memories, especially over the long-term, deserve celebration.

References to the above can be found here.



Kevin Votaw

Flow Coach. Applying flow in school, sports, and life: ❌ Flow x Fiero ♦️North of Happy ⚾ The Pitching DJ 🧠