Squeezing left hand can help athletes avoid choking under pressure

By Justin D'Ancona

"Choking" is something all sports fans are familiar with. We love to put the "choke" label on athletes and talk about how they perform under pressure.

Well, according to research done by Dr. Juergen Beckmann, chair of sport psychology at the Technical University of Munich in Germany, there is a way to exterminate those 'ants-in-your-pants' during crunch time.

You just have to squeeze a ball in your left hand before competing.

In three separate studies using semi-pro soccer players, judo experts and badminton players, those who clenched a ball in their left hand prior to activity performed better under strenuous situations than their counterparts who held a ball in their right hand.

Athletes' skills are mostly instinctive and automatic. Kicking a soccer ball or shooting a free throw, for example, requires little thought to carry out the task. When athletes begin to perform poorly, it can be because they are over-thinking their next movement, rather than just letting the skills they developed take over.

The left hemisphere of the brain is responsible for rumination -- or the repetitive focus on stress and the consequences that follow -- and the right hemisphere is connected to the performance of automated movements, like the ones used by athletes.

Stay with me.

The left hemisphere of the brain also controls the body movements of the right side of the body and the right hemisphere controls the body movements of the left side. So, by squeezing a ball in your left hand before competition you essentially activate the right hemisphere of the brain, making it more likely you'll rely on the skills you've worked on since you were a kid.

Got it?

Maybe this is how LeBron James finally got over the hump and got his coveted ring while shedding his 'choke' label. It seems like all the latest trends originated in Germany anyway. Who knows, but I think I'll give it a try before my basketball game tonight. Hey, I could use all the help I can get with my jumper.

Source: http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2012/09/choking-pressure.aspx