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Bad language as a tool for performance gain | Coaching Adults | ConnectedCoaches

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Bad language as a tool for performance gain

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Parental Advisory

Swearing out loud as a tool for performance gain. It brings a whole new meaning to the phrase, in rude health. According to research, the practice is as advantageous as it is outrageous. That you can boost your athletic prowess just by turning the air blue is, you have to admit, a tantalising prospect.

  • The concept of marginal gains has revolutionised sport, and here, potentially, is a marginal gain that can be achieved with no financial outlay and without need for weeks or months of sweat and toil.
  • Swearing seems to activate deeper parts of the brain more associated with emotions and is thought to trigger fight-or-flight response hormones.

Academics at Keele University researching the power of profanity have discovered that swearing aloud can make you faster and stronger.

It turns out, firing off a few expletives could be the shortest of shortcuts to success.

While there are obvious concerns, in terms of violating moral and social boundaries, as a science-backed hack for improving performance, studies show swearing could be as effective as any protein shake or carbohydrate gel.

Athletes go to incredible lengths to eke out marginal gains in their performance levels. They put their bodies through gruelling daily training programmes, repeated over many years, stick to strict nutritional plans that take the fun out of food, and collaborate with their coaches in meticulous detail over stress-busting strategies and coping mechanisms to help them optimise their proficiency on the big occasion.

Getting to the top is a ruthless and exhausting business, requiring enormous self-discipline.

Driven by this overwhelming desire to improve and succeed, the weight of expectation can reach a tipping point, and there have been many who have resorted to illegal means of gaining that all-important edge over their rivals.

So the revelation that, simply by unleashing a tirade of four-letter words you can boost your athletic prowess, is sure to be an irresistibly seductive proposition for amateurs and professionals alike, while at the same time generating much intrigue from coaches.

A totally free, perfectly legal and deliciously straightforward marginal gain, delivered wherever and whenever you need it.

An alternative to a magic bullet pill that makes you go like a bullet out of the blocks.

On your marks. Swear. Get set. Go!

Fight-or-flight response

The results of an anaerobic cycling test (carried out over a short, intensive period) involving 29 participants, and an isometric handgrip test involving 52 volunteers, that were conducted once while swearing and another time while not swearing, showed those who turned the air blue produced more power on the exercise bike and recorded stronger grips.

‘Swearing seems to activate deeper parts of the brain more associated with emotions,’ says research leader Dr Richard Stephens, who is head of Keele’s School of Psychologists.

Previous research led by Dr Stephens showed those who swore aloud before exercise had a greater ability to withstand pain than those who had belted out neutral words.

A passionate bout of swearing activates the body’s fight-or-flight response, it is thought, releasing a surge of chemicals into the bloodstream that increases our heart rate, diverting blood flow away from other parts of the body to the muscles.

This innate sympathetic nervous system response – that evolved during prehistoric times to ready the body for an imminent attack from a wild animal – also gives us an injection of energy and sharpens our senses.

And while he admits science does not have all the answers, the fact that test subjects could cycle faster and grip stronger on the back of reduced levels of physical pain brought about by the extra hormones circulating through the blood, is inarguably an exciting discovery.

Tricking the brain

The same week the study was presented at the annual conference of the British Psychological Society, the BBC TV documentary ‘The Truth About Stress’ was aired.

In the programme, presenter Fiona Phillips interviewed neuroscientist and clinical psychologist Dr Ian Robertson, who explained how the brain can be tricked into feeling different emotions at moments of heightened stress.

She put it to the test. Simply by shouting aloud, ‘I feel excited’, the second before she hurtled to the ground on a zip wire, had the effect of triggering an excited emotion inside her brain, instead of an anxious one. She enjoyed the thrill of the ride.

Dr Robertson explained: ‘It is faking it til you make it – fooling the brain to create a different emotion by manipulating a line of code in your brain.’

That people are capable of performing at their best by harnessing the energy of a stressful situation and using it to their advantage is something contemporary coaches and athletes are well versed in.

So if we can reinterpret anxious feelings into excited feelings that help us react better to high pressure situations, surely the notion that swearing can also trick the brain into releasing fight-or-flight hormones is not too far-fetched.

Desensitised to obscenities

Now for the bad news.

Shouting out words that you know are considered taboo can boost athletic performance, but only if by doing so you feel awkward or embarrassed. If you are not used to dropping the f-bomb, the emotions it stirs when yelled at 80 decibels are magnified.

If you are a self-confessed potty mouth, you will likely get no benefit from the technique as the more you swear, the more the words become watered down, and the less effective the action becomes.

But in any case, why are we even debating this? Surely, coaches cannot be seen to be encouraging such X-rated behaviour from their athletes, especially if children might be within earshot.

Decency prevents me from listing example phrases that might be bellowed before the heat of battle – that and our zero tolerance policy towards swearing on ConnectedCoaches, not to mention the built-in profanity filter.

But you get the drift. I am loath to suggest anyone tries screaming curse words before you next compete in a 100m race, psyche yourself up for a clean and jerk lift or before a match point or crucial tie break in tennis, as you will more than likely be hit with a code violation, disqualification or receive a thick ear for your troubles from a spectator.

My question to you is, if the practice works, should we make allowances for swearing in certain circumstances? Industrial language is, after all, part of everyday life.

Is there a suitable time and place for a well-intentioned outburst of effing and jeffing if it can help you perform that increment better?

On the other side of the coin, professional footballers chain swear their way through matches like a Billy Connolly stand-up routine, and receive much public criticism for it. It would be hypocritical of us to denounce that sort of behaviour and then turn a blind eye when it is happening in our clubs, would it not?

If it is deemed okay for the adults, you can bet impressionable youngsters will pounce upon the latest foul language fad. Before you know it there will be a national epidemic of cussing in parks and playgrounds up and down the country.

Is there a solution or do we just look this particular gifthorse in the mouth?

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Comments (1)


How desperate are you?

Avg: 0 / 5 (0votes)