Study: A friendly touch can improve basketball performance

According to a research team at the University of Basel in Switzerland, a friendly pat on the back ahead of a stressful situation can actually improve a basketball player’s in-game performance.

A recent story from detailed a recent study that shows a physical touch—like a hug or a pat on the back—can reduce stress in difficult athletic situations.

According to researchers, a friendly touch—a pat on the back or a hug—can improve a basketball player’s in-game performance.

Below is an excerpt from the story.

Whether this influences performance in stressful life situations has not yet been studied in detail. Led by Dr. Christiane Büttner, the team investigated this question in the context of basketball games and published their findings in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise under the title “The Power of Human Touch: Physical Contact Improves Performance in Basketball Free Throws.”

Basketball players receive a free throw if they are fouled while attempting to score. In most cases, the fouled player gets two free throws and can win one point per successful shot.

Büttner, who is a University of Basel visiting instructor from the University of Landau in Germany and Purdue University in Indiana studied precisely this situation using videos of basketball games. The study included a total of 60 games played by women’s basketball teams in the US National Collegiate Athletic Association. The games contained 835 incidents of two free throws.

The researchers counted how many of her four teammates would touch the shooter before a shot – for example, by tapping her on the shoulder or squeezing her hand. They then calculated whether there was a statistical association between the touch rate by teammates and the success rate of the subsequent shot.

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The data showed that the chance of scoring rose when teammates showed their support through touch. The effect appeared only after a failed first shot, “so support from teammates is most helpful when your stress level is already high because you’ve missed the first of the two shots,” Büttner said.

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