Clenching left hand could improve footballers’ success


Scientists found skilled athletes have spent years honing their body into reacting with little active thought, explaining the instant kicks of the martial artist or the effortless volley of a top footballer. However, under pressure they can begin to focus too much on their movements rather than relying on motor skills. Researchers at the University of Munich in Germany – the home of penalty shoot-out masters – found that by clenching their left fist or squeezing a ball an athlete activates the right hemisphere of the brain, which is linked to automatic motor actions rather than thought. Study leader Dr Juergen Beckmann said: “Rumination 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.” It was known 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. In studies on right handed athletes, 30 semi-professional footballers took six penalties in practice. The next day they took six more, this time in front of 300 students.
Those who squeezed a ball in their left hand performed as well in front of an audience as in practice, while those who squeezed a ball in their right missed more in front of the crowd. In a second experiment 20 judo experts 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. The findings were published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. courtesy