A Friendly Touch from Teammates Boosts Free Throw Success, Study Finds

When a basketball player steps up to take a free throw, all eyes are on them. It’s one of the most stressful moments in the game, with the pressure to score weighing heavily on the shooter’s shoulders. But a new study suggests that a simple, friendly touch from a teammate could make all the difference.

Researchers from the University of Basel, the University of Landau, and Purdue University analyzed 60 women’s basketball games from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in the United States. They focused on 835 instances where a player was awarded two free throws.

Free throws are awarded when a player is fouled while attempting to score. In most cases, the fouled player gets two shots, with each successful shot worth one point. Many games are decided by these crucial moments at the free throw line.

The research team, led by Christiane Büttner from the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Basel, counted how many times the shooter’s four teammates made physical contact with her before each shot. This could be a tap on the shoulder, a squeeze of the hand, or any other supportive touch.

They then looked at whether there was a link between the number of touches from teammates and the likelihood of the shooter making the shot. The results, published in the journal Psychology of Sport & Exercise, showed that a friendly touch from a teammate could indeed boost the chances of scoring.

Interestingly, the effect was only seen after the shooter had missed their first free throw. “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 explains.

This finding is in line with previous research showing that physical touch, such as a hug or a pat on the back, can help reduce stress in difficult situations. However, this study is one of the first to investigate whether this effect can also influence performance in high-pressure moments.

The researchers believe that the supportive touches from teammates may help the shooter manage their stress and improve their focus, leading to better performance on the second free throw.

While the study focused specifically on basketball free throws, Büttner suggests that the same principle could apply to other team situations where stress levels are high. A pat on the back or a squeeze of the hand from a colleague might help manage stress and improve performance in various work or social settings.

The study highlights the importance of teamwork and support, not just in sports but in all areas of life. It shows that even a small gesture of encouragement can make a big difference when someone is facing a challenging situation.

So, the next time you see a teammate or colleague struggling under pressure, remember that a friendly touch could be just what they need to succeed. As the saying goes, “A pat on the back is only a few vertebrae removed from a kick in the pants, but is miles ahead in results.”

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