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Do red cards work?

A red card is shown by a referee to a player has been sent off. A red card will be shown to a player if they have committed serious offence such as violent conduct or an illegal and purposeful obstruction of a goal scoring opportunity for the opposing team. A player who is given a red card is instantly sent off of the field and is forbidden to play for the remainder of the match. They are also handed a suspension starting from the next game which will usually be a two-match ban. But do red cards really work and how effective are they?

A red card is form of negative reinforecement as it highlights the player's errors and motivates them so the foul does not happen again.


In many football matches we see the same players getting red cards for the same foul. They seem like they never learn from their errors. So are red cards really effective?


To understand the effectiveness of a red card the situation needs to be evaluated. Negative reinforcement works better with elite players who are more experienced and have a greater desire to improve. Beginners may react badly to negative reinforcement as their self- esteem and confidence is low which would cause them to lose motivation and give up.


We have seen many times in football games where players have reacted badly and aggressively towards being shown a red card. This is usually to do with the personality type of the player due to avoidance behaviour and therefore does not respond well to negative criticism they may react badly to the comments. This will cause them to lose motivation and react negatively and aggressively to the negative reinforcement. Therefore, when giving negative reinforcement it is key to evaluate the player's personality.


Therefore, red cards are effective on players who are at an elite level yet it is important to evaluate their personality type as they may not respond well to the criticism and therefore not strive to correct their errors and become aggressive. Overall, however, I believe red cards are successful as they highlight are player's mistakes and stop behaviour which could endanger the safety of another player.

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