Opposing forces

As we’ve seen in previous articles on this site, external circumstances can influence testosterone levels.

Sporting scenarios for example, typically give men in particular a serious boost. This is so we can put that extra strength, stamina and competitive edge the hormone gives us to good use.

On the other hand, we know that starting a family tends to lower T slightly. Because rolling back our more in-your-face impulses allows us to become a bit more nurturing. Makes sense really.

But what about when triggers like these, usually pulling our male hormone in opposite directions, crossover? What about a sporting situation involving our kids, say? Which evolutionary side wins out?

A small 2018 study by the University of New Mexico and State University of New York tested the hormone levels of fathers watching their kids play soccer.

It turns out those nippers might just be good for the occasional testosterone boost after all.

Fair & flare

Admittedly the T raising effects of watching sport have never proved as strong or consistent as playing it. But there’s still enough of a positive link to warrant further study.

Research involved 18 dads, with an average age of 47, giving saliva samples before and after watching their kids, aged around 13, play soccer. While half the men watched their sons play, the other half were supporting daughters.

Scientists report that on average fatherly fans saw T rise by 81% and cortisol, a stress hormone, by 417%

(Testosterone and cortisol are generally thought to go against one another, but more on that later)

Interestingly the size of a proud Pa’s surge didn’t depend on whether their sprogs won or lost. Instead it was driven by how fair they thought the referee was being to their boy or girl.

The authors of the study note this reaction is:

“Consistent with a functional explanation in which hormonal changes are associated with the potential for future conflict. Here, in the context of responding to potential threats affecting one’s own status and that of kin.”

In other words, our body is getting hormonally ready step in and protect our kids if needs be.

The more unjust parents thought the man in charge was being to junior, the more fired up they, and their male hormone, got.

Guys who arrived at the side-lines already with higher T were also more likely to think they spotted poor decisions against their kid. However, brothers married to another mother, with lower starting levels, were more chilled.

Other supporting evidence

There’s an old saying ‘Don’t blame the players, blame the game’ and in actual fact the game itself did have influence on parental hormone levels. The more vital the game felt, the bigger the rise in T.

Then again the players themselves made a difference to levels too. Fathers whose kids didn’t seem that invested in the game didn’t see as big a spike. Chips off the old block who were giving 100% earned their ol’ Da peak increases.

Also, not to reinforce outdated stereotypes, but the dad’s watching their sons usually had a bigger rise in T than those watching their daughters.

Rivals or teammates?

The one aspect of their results which most interested researchers was the unexpected link between T and cortisol. Traditionally, cortisol was thought to block the positive effects of T.

However in this case the size of a father’s cortisol increase seemed to predict how big a T boost was coming.

This new theory is known as the “positive coregulation” model of cortisol and testosterone. It suggests that, far from hurting our male hormone, cortisol basically turbo charges T’s affects during competition.

Personally we’re not sure about this. This small scale work slightly supports for the new idea, but the vast majority of evidence still favours T and cortisol being on opposing teams.

Final whistle

The classic joke about parents who are super into their kids sport is that they’re trying to recapture their own youth through it.

Well given the restorative powers of T and the boost watching your nippers compete gives, maybe there’s actually something to that after all.

So this is good news for anyone who thinks kids automatically signal their male hormone on the slide. That doesn’t have to be the case. As we’ve see here, your littleuns can sometimes prompt a big boost.

A lot is said about testosterone making guys more uncaring or less empathetic. What’s cool about this study though is it shows that high T and caring for our family can go hand in hand. In away which will probably embarrass your children for decades to come, but still, it’s the thought that counts.

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