Clenching the Left Hand Prevents Athletes from Choking Under Pressure

Nobody wants to choke during a big game when performance is everything. What if squeezing a small ball in your right hand could eliminate that possibility? New research shows it might be that simple.

When the game is on the line and it has come down to the wire, the last thing anyone wants is a “choke artist.” A choke artist is someone who does not perform well under pressure, although he or she may do well at other times. According to new research published by the American Psychological Association, right-handed athletes may improve their performance under pressure simply by activating certain parts of the brain by squeezing a ball or clenching their left hand just prior to competition.

There were three experiments done on various types of athletes in the study. The first experiment consisted of 30 semi-pro soccer players. These players took penalty shots one day, and the next day they attempted to make the same shots in an auditorium packed with more than 300 university students. The players who squeezed a ball with their left hand performed as well under pressure as they did in practice, whereas the players who squeezed a ball in their right hand actually missed more shots.1

The second experiment included 20 judo experts who performed a series of judo kicks into a sandbag during practice. The next session, the athletes were told that their kicks would be videotaped for evaluation by their coaches. Again, the athletes who squeezed a ball in their left hand prior to the session outperformed the group that squeezed a ball in their right hand.2

The third experiment consisted of badminton players who completed a series of practice serves. They were then divided into teams to be evaluated by coaches. This time the athletes squeezed a ball during one phase, and clenched their fist for the next phase. As expected, those who squeezed a ball or clenched their fist with their left hand performed better than those who used their right hand.3

The right hemisphere of the brain controls movements of the left side of the body, and the left hemisphere controls the right side. Consequently, the squeezing or clenching technique is thought to activate the right hemisphere of the brain and reduce the likelihood the athlete chokes. This study is unique in it’s discovery that something as simple as squeezing a ball or clenching a fist in the left hand can improve performance for right-handed athletes when they are under pressure.

This study only focused on right-handed athletes due to the fact that some relationships between different parts of the brain are not entirely understood for left-handed players. Until further research is conducted, it’s worth a shot for those lefties to experiment with the squeeze/clench technique in their right hand.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.