5 Bizarre Brain Hacks That Make You Better at Sports
Talent, hard work, desire -- they're all nice if you're trying to get to the top of your sport. But all other things being equal, there are a few other factors that give one side the edge. Random, ridiculous factors, such as ...
Acting Like a Jackass When You Score
No matter how many times the NFL calls it unsportsmanlike and throws fines and penalty flags at it, excessive celebration after scoring might actually help a team win. And it's true in just about every sport. A study found that players who overtly celebrated with their teammates -- particularly during an important game were -- more likely to come out on top.
This is what victory looks like.
The study looked specifically at shootouts in soccer. For those of you who just frowned at the word "soccer" or try to avoid any information related to it out of principle, just pretend we're talking about sudden death in hockey. For the completely unfamiliar, a shootout is exactly what it sounds like: Five players from each team get to fire off one penalty kick with only the keeper to beat. Whichever team scores more goals wins. It's not the ideal way to settle a winner but it beats tacking on overtimes until it becomes one of those endless and absurd sports.
Yeah, we're looking at you cricket.
The study found that when a player scored, his team was more likely to go on to win if he showed visible signs of elation. So walking away with a "that's how you fucking do it" smirk might make you look cool, but it's not helping your team.
Even stranger, the study found that celebrating while facing the crowd didn't help, the player has to be celebrating in the direction of his team.
And this strategy won't help anything.
Why? Well, the action simultaneously encouraged everyone else in the same jersey and seemed to mess with the other team's heads, causing them to miss a high percentage of shots directly after watching their opponents jump all over each other. That's right: Science says classy players lose. Go call your old little league coach and tell him to suck it!
We've already covered how wearing red makes you more attractive to the opposite sex, but now it looks like we might as well throw away any non-rose toned clothing because it turns out it makes you more likely to win at sports too.
This man will humiliate you on the field and then take your girlfriend.
Two British researchers studied the results of the 2004 Olympics and found that the team or person wearing red was more likely to win in close matches -- and that's across a huge variety of team and individual sports, like soccer, tae kwon do and wresting.
The key though, is close matches; if you were ranked 23rd and had to wrestle the #1 guy in the world then no amount of red is going to save you.
No one's buying it, Cleveland.
But in an even match-up, wearing red is a statistically significant factor in winning. The researchers think the reason for this might not be all that different from why red attracts us to people: Red equals dominance.
We see it in species of monkeys, too, where the males have red colorations in their face and butts. The more dominant males tend to be much redder then the ones lower down the hierarchy. In humans, our faces turn red when we are all riled up, angry or ready for a fight. The association of red uniforms with dominance and aggression may send subconscious signals to an opponent that they are being really stupid and challenging the alpha male.
Yes, singing. But to understand why it works you have to know something about the phenomenon we call "choking."
It happens to pro athletes in every sport, from the 1993 Houston Oilers (who famously blew a 35-3 lead in the playoffs) to figure skater Michelle Kwan in the Olympics. But why does it happen? An amateur fucking up is one thing, but a professional who has done nothing but train his/her entire life?
Validates our laziness?
Well, it turns out they are actually more likely to choke, and choke harder than any of us.
Basically, once you get the mechanics of a sport honed and perfected, it's best to just let it happen. Choking occurs when people who know better start thinking too hard about what they need to do. The added pressure forces your brain into a state called "paralysis by analysis" where the "working memory" part of your brain literally stops working, and the more talented you are the more working memory you have meaning the harder the failure.
But it turns out that the solution to all of it can be as simple as singing.
Research indicates that doing anything that your brain also controls (singing or humming) preoccupies your mind from the task at hand and will keep those pathways from becoming over active. This in turn keeps your working memory from shutting down and prevents you from choking. It's essentially just distracting your conscious mind long enough that your muscle memory can finish the job.
This man's catchy tunes could save your life.
Golfers consistently use a variation of this strategy to avoid psyching themselves out. They will count down from 10 while putting to keep their mind from over analyzing the situation. You probably participated in group song that time you served on the chain gang. Regardless of the activity, as long as you don't mind mouthing lyrics on the free-throw line or humming at the plate then it turns out providing your own soundtrack can actually help your game.
We hate it as much as you do when Glee ends up being right.
Sports Drinks (But Not Why You Think)
Sports drinks are a huge business -- Gatorade alone makes well over a billion dollars a year. And the reason so many athletes swear by them is the promise of increased performance, replacing all those vital nutrients lost during exercise, just like the ads say.
"GIVE ME SIGHT BEYOND SIGHT!"
It turns out, however, that all that electrolyte and re-hydration technology is nothing compared to the simple pleasure of having a bunch of sugar in your mouth.
A study found that sports drinks work because they activate the pleasure center of your brain. You don't even have to drink them, just swishing some around in your mouth and spitting it out has the same effect.
However, motor oil will not "unlock the power" like the bottle says.
The carbohydrates in the drink stimulate receptors in your mouth that then send your brain messages that things are all totally cool. Your brain, in turn, becomes more active in the pleasure center, allowing you to enjoy feeling the burn far longer than some idiot without a sugary drink. It also stimulates the part of your brain in charge of movement control. So not only will you be content while kicking your water-drinking opponent's ass, you'll actually be kicking it harder.
At some point, we've all at least been near a television while a women's tennis match was on and (even if briefly) mistaken the sounds for porn. Particularly the noises Monica Seles used to make. Grunting, and sometimes almost screaming, is common place for many male and female athletes and while it might seen ridiculous and distracting, according to one study, grunting in tennis actually helps those players win.
But the right clothes make you famous.
Now as intuitive as it may seem that grunting would help put more muscle into a swing (like karate guys screaming "HIYAA!!" when they hit you), that's not what the study suggested.
Instead, the grunt is effective because it can disorient the opponent. Even when a non-grunting tennis player is used to playing someone who makes a lot of noise, each and every grunt in every match actively affects the tennis player's ability to return the ball. This is likely a result of the shock the sound causes on the opponent, making it harder for him/her to perceive where the ball is at any given time. It also, drastically slows the reaction time of someone trying to return a serve from a heavy grunter; after a player grunts, the ball will travel on average two feet further before being returned than it would have with no noise at all.
So if you like to make noise on the court, it might not be winning you any friends but it very well could win you the game. Isn't that what's really important? And you know what would really give you an advantage: combining grunting with the singing thing earlier. Time to start memorizing some Nickelback lyrics, baby!
For more bizarre determining factors, check out 7 Life Altering Decisions Made For You (Before Your Birth) and 6 Ridiculous Factors That Determine Who Wins The Super Bowl.