Performance pressure is an age-old concern in sports. Yet, the Technische Universiteit of Munich’s research team, led by Prof. Dr. Jürgen Beckmann, may have uncovered a game-changing solution. From World Cup penalty kicks to crucial golf putts, athletes often grapple with immense pressure. So, how can they maintain composure and ensure optimal performance?Read more: The Science Behind Hand-Squeezing in Sports
Understanding Pressure in Diverse Sports
Athletes in various disciplines such as badminton, beach volleyball, soccer, golf, taekwondo, and gymnastics often face high-pressure situations that can impact their performance. Prof. Beckmann’s Sports Psychology group, based at the University of Munich, has been fervently studying these scenarios, seeking effective coping mechanisms.
The Left-Hand Squeeze: A Potential Antidote to Choking
Interestingly, their studies revealed that dynamically squeezing a ball with the left hand can effectively prevent ‘choking’ in right-handed athletes. To understand this phenomenon better, participants were divided into two groups. The first group practiced the dynamic squeezing motion using a tennis ball with their left hand for 10-15 seconds before serving. In contrast, the second group actively squeezed the racquet grip with their right hand for the same duration. Both groups then played a series of serves. The left-hand squeezing group remained consistent in both relaxed and high-pressure situations. Conversely, the group that didn’t use this technique saw a decline in performance under pressure.
The Science Behind the Left-Hand Squeeze
The underlying explanation for this occurrence is intricate. According to Prof. Beckmann, the right brain hemisphere plays a crucial role in motor skills, while the left hemisphere can inhibit these skills due to anxieties and tensions. For right-handers, squeezing with the left hand intensifies the activation of the right brain hemisphere. Electroencephalogram (EEG) findings suggest that this action doesn’t necessarily amplify the right hemisphere’s activation but rather curbs the disruptive linguistic representations in the left hemisphere. This process, which researchers have termed the ‘reset mechanism’, facilitates smooth, automatic movements. Moreover, left-hand squeezing also exerts a calming effect.
Practical Implications Beyond Sports
“The advantage in tennis is that players already have a ball in hand,” notes Dr. Wergin, a co-author of the study. The tennis ball’s firmness is particularly suitable for dynamic squeezing, demanding greater resistance for optimal effects. Prof. Beckmann adds, “This squeezing technique can be integrated into the serving routine athletes typically follow. However, its applications extend far beyond tennis.” After the technique was featured in Scientific American, performing artists reported successfully integrating hand squeezing into their routines. Preliminary research on patients with non-organic dizziness also yielded promising results. And in the absence of a ball, simply making a fist with the left hand and squeezing for 15 seconds can be beneficial. While the team has primarily studied right-handers, it’s yet to be confirmed if left-handers can use their right hand for the same effect.
Beckmann J, Fimpel L, Wergin VV (2021) Preventing a loss of accuracy of the tennis serve under pressure. PLoS ONE 16(7): e0255060. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0255060