Some sound like growls, others sound like sirens, but no matter what a tennis player’s grunt sounds like, new research has found it actually helps by throwing their opponent off their game.
In a study conducted by Scott Sinnett, a psychology professor at the University of Hawaii, 33 undergraduate students watched tennis players hitting balls – with some of the tennis players grunting as they hit. Researchers then had the students indicate the direction of the shot immediately afterwards.
Turns out grunting not only slowed down the students’ response time – it caused them to make more mistakes in guessing the direction of the shots.
“In a nutshell, if the shot included a grunt, the students were slower and less accurate with their response,” says Sinnett. It's kind of like "icing" an NFL kicker, which we've written about before.
Sinnett hopes that his research will help to shed light on some of the controversy that’s bubbled up the last few years with regard to grunting in women’s tennis. During the 2009 Wimbledon Championship, for instance, both spectators and tennis players complained about the loud shrieks and grunts coming from some of the players.
It's not just tennis. Loud, obnoxious grunting causes frequent complaints in fitness gyms and at least one high-profile lawsuit over a dispute in a New York spinning class.
Portuguese tennis star Michelle Larcher de Brito – a notorious grunter – has even been booed off the court after being accused of using her banshee-like grunts and shrieks to distract opponents. Her grunts have reportedly reached a decibel reading of 109. (That's louder than a subway train or a motorcycle, and it's almost as loud as a rock concert.)
“There are a number of findings that would suggest that a consistent grunt should actually help an opponent by drawing and focusing attention on the ball being struck, but this obviously isn’t how many players and spectators feel,” says Sinnett, who hopes to test out his findings on professionals tennis players next. “This project allowed us to look at the theoretical question of whether the basic lab findings can be extended to a real world situation while at the same time look at a debate in professional tennis.”
David Partikian, a 45-year-old Seattle merchant marine who’s played tennis for most of his life, says using some annoying trait to psych out an opponent is nothing new in tennis.
“There are all sorts of little things that super competitive people will do,” he says. “I used to play a guy who smoked while he served. He was daring you to smack it at him. This is how racket sports can be. It’s a psych out.”
Might these new findings might inspire a cacophony of groans, howls, and shrieks at the health club tennis court?
“I think a grunt should be reserved for a serve that’s going over a hundred miles per hour,” says Partikian. “Unless you’re at a pro level and ... it’s a huge athletic effort, it’s a bit of an exaggeration."
Do you grunt when you play sports or workout? Tell us about it in the comments.
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