When the pressure’s on, will you deliver? A research team at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has been investigating the phenomenon of choking and come up with a solution that can help right-handers in high-pressure situations.

Research undertaken by TUM’s Sport Psychology working group across a variety of sports – including badminton, beach volleyball, soccer, golf, taekwondo and gymnastics – shows that squeezing a ball dynamically with the left hand is effective in preventing choking.

A study carried out by the working group saw the technique transferred to tennis, with participants asked to dynamically squeeze a tennis ball with their left hand immediately before serving.

One group performed the left-hand dynamic squeeze 10-15 seconds immediatelytristin zeman C8r2N2C BHE unsplash golf polo shirt before serving, while the second actively squeezed the racquet grip with their right hand for the same amount of time.

The two groups made eight serves each with a specified target without pressure and eight under pressure:

  • The group which had squeezed the ball remained stable for both series of serves.
  • The group which hadn’t saw distance from the target increase when under pressure.

What does the science say?

Professor Jürgen Beckmann explained that EEG (electroencephalogram) studies showed left-handed squeezing triggers a relaxation effect, referred to as a “reset mechanism”.

The EEG findings indicate the fear-related, interfering linguistic representations in the left brain hemisphere are inhibited, allowing an automatic movement to once again be performed fluidly.

“The findings are highly significant in practical terms,” Professor Beckmann explained.

“The squeeze can become part of a serving routine which players normally perform before serving. But the applicability of the dynamic hand squeeze with the left hand goes well beyond tennis tournaments.”

If there is no ball at hand, clenching the left hand into a fist and squeezing for 15 seconds can help.

It’s not yet been determined whether left-handers can correspondingly use the right hand, with the research team having thus far only investigated right-handers.

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