According to new research published by the American Psychological Association, athletes who are right-handed may improve their performance under pressure by squeezing a ball or clenching their left hand before competition to activate certain parts of the brain.
Dr. Juergen Beckmann stated that skilled athletes hone many movements, such as pitching a ball or completing a backflip. Gradually these moments become automatic with little conscious thought. When athletes under pressure do not perform well, they may be focusing too much on their own movements rather than relying on their motor skills developed through years of practice.
“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,” Beckmann said. Previous research has demonstrated that rumination is correlated with the brain’s left hemisphere, while the right hemisphere is associated with superior performance in automated behaviors. The right hemisphere controls movements of the left side of the body, and vice versa. 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. The study focused exclusively on right-handed athletes because certain relationships between various parts of the brain are not as well understood for left-handed people.
The ball-squeezing technique may not assist athletes whose performance is based on strength or stamina, such as weight lifters or marathon runners. This technique is more likely to be beneficial to athletes whose performance is based on accuracy and complex body movements, such as gymnasts or golfers.
TIP: Squeeze a ball or clench your fist and let go of rumination during athletic performance.
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