Researchers from Germany carried out three experiments with
experienced soccer and badminton players, and judo experts, to test the skill
of the athletes during practice, and also during competitions carried out
before large crowd or before the video camera. Needless to say, the latter was
much more stressful!
During the experiments, the scientists found out that right-handed
athletes, who squeezed a ball held in their left hand before a competition, did
not succumb to pressure compared to right-handed players who squeezed a ball in
their right hand.
For skilled, competent athletes, kicking a soccer ball or doing a
judo kick is done automatically without any conscious thought. Lead researcher
Juergen Beckmann, PhD, an expert in sport psychology at the Technical
University of Munich in Germany, states that when these athletes are under
pressure, they fail to perform well, perhaps as a result of concentrating far
too much on their own movements rather than depending on their well-honed motor
skills that have been sharply developed due to years of practice!
Earlier research has revealed that rumination is linked to the
brain's left hemisphere, while superior performances in automated behaviors,
such as those seen in some athletes, are linked to the right hemisphere. It is
a fact that the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body and
the right side of the brain controls the left body side.
The scientists proposed a theory that squeezing a ball using the
left hand or simply clenching the left hand would stimulate the right
hemisphere of the brain, which would reduce the chances of the athlete
succumbing to pressure.
The study focused exclusively on right-handed athletes because in
left handed people, some links between parts of the brain are not clearly
These findings may have significant implications beyond athletics.
Elderly people are afraid of falling and tend to concentrate too much on their
movements. Beckmann suggests that it would be helpful if right-handed elderly
clutched with their left hand when they walked, or climbed stairs.
The researchers suggest that the ball-squeezing technique is
likely to benefit those athletes whose performance is based on complex body
movements and accuracy, such as golfers and soccer players, and not those whose
performance is based on strength or stamina, such as weightlifters or marathon
The present study has been published online in
the Journal of Experimental Psychology.