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PostPosted: Sat Jul 06, 2013 2:49 am 
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Some athletes may improve their performance under pressure simply by squeezing a ball or clenching their left hand before competition to activate certain parts of the brain, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

One doesn't have to be an athlete to have stress in today's world so this research should interest anyone who has to "get it together" and function at their peak levels.

In three experiments with experienced soccer players, judo experts and badminton players, researchers in Germany tested the athletes' skills during practice and then in stressful competitions before a large crowd or video camera.

Right-handed athletes who squeezed a ball in their left hand before competing were less likely to choke under pressure than right-handed players who squeezed a ball in their right hand. The study was published online in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (September 2012).

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 06, 2013 2:52 am 
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Juergen Beckmann, PhD, chair of sport psychology at the Technical University of Munich in Germany, explains the phenomenon.

"Rumination (i.e. thinking too deeply about their performance) can interfere with concentration and performance of motor tasks. Athletes usually perform better when they trust their bodies rather than thinking too much about their own actions or what their coaches told them during practice.

While it may seem counterintuitive, consciously trying to keep one's balance is likely to produce imbalance, as was seen in some sub-par performances by gymnasts during the Olympics in London."

Essentially, Dr. Beckman is saying that athletes should trust their muscle memory and clear their minds by squeezing a ball.

Previous research has shown that rumination is associated with the brain's left hemisphere, while the right hemisphere is associated with superior performance in automated behaviors, such as those used by some athletes.


The right hemisphere controls movements of the left side of the body, and the left hemisphere controls the right side. The researchers theorized that squeezing a ball or clenching the left hand would activate the right hemisphere of the brain and reduce the likelihood of the athlete's choking under pressure.

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 06, 2013 2:54 am 
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"The research could have important implications outside athletics. Elderly people who are afraid of falling often focus too much on their movements, so right-handed elderly people may be able to improve their balance by clenching their left hand before walking or climbing stairs."
"Many movements of the body can be impaired by attempts at consciously controlling them," he said. "This technique can be helpful for many situations and tasks." -- Beckmann

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 06, 2013 2:56 am 
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Details of the Experiment
In the first experiment, 30 semi-professional male soccer players took six penalty shots during a practice session. The next day, they attempted to make the same penalty shots in an auditorium packed with more than 300 university students waiting to see a televised soccer match between Germany and Austria. The players who squeezed a ball with their left hand performed as well under pressure as during practice, while players who squeezed a ball in their right hand missed more shots in the crowded auditorium.

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 06, 2013 2:57 am 
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Twenty judo experts (14 men and six women) took part in the second experiment. First, they performed a series of judo kicks into a sandbag during practice. During a second session, they were told that their kicks would be videotaped and evaluated by their coaches. The judo athletes who squeezed a ball with their left hand not only didn't choke under pressure, they performed better overall during the stressful competition than during practice, while those in the control group choked under pressure, the study found.

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 06, 2013 2:59 am 
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The final experiment featured 18 experienced badminton players (12 men and six women) who completed a series of practice serves. Then, they were divided into teams and competed against each other while being videotaped for evaluation by their coaches. Athletes who squeezed a ball in their left hand didn't choke under pressure, unlike the control group players who squeezed a ball in their right hand.

A final phase of the experiment had the athletes just clench their left or right hand without a ball before competition, and players who clenched their left hand performed better than players who squeezed their right hand.

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 06, 2013 3:01 am 
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This ball-squeezing technique probably wouldn't help athletes whose performance is based on strength or stamina, such as weightlifters or marathon runners. The effects apply to athletes whose performance is based on accuracy and complex body movements, such as soccer players or golfers

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 06, 2013 3:04 am 
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Remember that the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body and visa versa.


"The research shows that it's possible for only one side of the brain, and thus one side of the body, to be motivated at a time. It changes the conception we have about motivation. It's a weird idea, that your left hand, for instance, could be more motivated than your right hand. This basic research helps scientists understand how the two sides of the brain get along to drive our behavior."

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 31, 2013 8:51 pm 
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Van Canna wrote:
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Twenty judo experts (14 men and six women) took part in the second experiment. First, they performed a series of judo kicks into a sandbag during practice. During a second session, they were told that their kicks would be videotaped and evaluated by their coaches.


I wasn't aware that judoka trained kicks. I must not be training at the right place if I'm missing out on that :)

On another note though, I wonder if the innate tendency to clench one's fist in stressful situations is an unconscious mechanism for limiting reductions in performance under high arousal.


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PostPosted: Thu Aug 01, 2013 12:41 am 
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You might find this interesting Mark.

http://unews.utah.edu/news_releases/fin ... s-of-fury/

A wee bit of biased flawed science but interesting none the less. Love studies designed to suport conclusions...kind of backwards.

Clenched fist I see as a dominance display but I take the display seriously and respond preemptively. I see it as a pre contact clue and don't look for reasons to doubt the individual sending me clues. They may be bluffing, they may not. If they turtle they probably were. I just assume they are about to strike me and go!

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PostPosted: Thu Aug 01, 2013 2:06 pm 
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I see your point about the fist(s) being used to display dominance.... but have you ever caught yourself clenching your fists when you're stressed or anxious but not in a real fight per se? E.g. when you're watching your favourite sports team about to score (or be scored on) or perhaps when watching a horror film?

I'm wondering if the reason that we tend to do that is because clenching of the fist triggers a physiological reaction that somehow compensates for the fact that you're a nervous wreck in the situation.


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PostPosted: Thu Aug 01, 2013 4:17 pm 
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Interesting subject.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/2 ... 11509.html

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 05, 2013 3:14 pm 
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I think they are overlooking an obvious explanation from our arboreal past in these. When hanging out in trees, or climbing in other ways, it is beneficial to clench the hands when startled, stressed, or anxious to keep from falling. And with the predominance of right-handedness in humans, an instinctive clinching the branch with the left hand would leave the dominant hand available to deal with the threat/situation. Clenching would have been beneficial in other ways in our past as well. Lose your grip on an animal you have caught and you might not eat, we do not have claws or fangs with which to snag our prey like other predators do. Lose your grip on your hand-held weapon when facing a dangerous animal or an enemy and you might lose your life. Just because over 99% of humanity has been removed from such realities in recent centuries by technology does not mean we have lost that reflex when we get stressed and our more "primitive" nature kicks in, hundreds to thousands of millennia of evolutionary programming is not so easily overruled.

21st Century American cubicle warrior equivalent: Lose your grip on your fishing pole when a decent-sized fish takes the bait and you might watch some expensive equipment disappear under the water. :D

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 05, 2013 8:16 pm 
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Good post Glenn and I agree.

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