Friday, March 12, 2010

Touch and Win!

Texas A&M players touch it up during their Big 12 tourney quarterfinal win (Kansas City Star)
ESPN Magazine's Page Two had this little item about team touch and team success. They reviewed the research of Michael Kruse of Berkley who found that teams who touched a lot won a lot. You may be thinking, excuse me, Observer, but doesn't this item belong on the sports blog? Hang with me here, because I think it's not just a winner for sports teams to be touchy-feely. I'd link you to the article, but you can't access ESPN Mag content without a subscription, so here's some of their words:

It has been well documented by the brains who study such things that in life, the act of touching another person makes the touchee calmer and healthier and leads to better performance. Turns out, there are benefits to being touchy-feely in sports, too.

In the fall of 2008, Berkeley social-psych researcher Michael Kraus, along with psychology prof Dacher Keltner, decided to track the performance of NBA teams by the amount of positive physical contact players made during the 2008-2009 season. Their work, to be published in an upcoming edition of the journal Emotion--reveals a strong correlation between touching and win totals.

Since players on better teams high-five one another more often than those on lesser squads, the researchers made sure to account for both celebratory high-fives after buckets and more "benign contact" between plays: shoulder touches as teams buckle down on D or butt slaps coming out of a time out. Sure enough, the most successful clubs were the ones with players who reached out to one another often and spent lots of time connected. Kraus explains that fist bumps, for example, serve to improve team chemistry, spacial awareness and cooperation among teammates.

And here's some more data to support these findings: the NBA's two touchiest teams in 2008-09 were also two of its best: the [Boston] Celtics and [Los Angeles] Lakers.

The graphics are also from ESPN Mag--one shows where on the body the touches happened and the other is a representation of the touch factor for the five best and five worst NBA teams in the '08-'09 season.

Here's the deal: when you touch someone, it's a connection. Usually it makes the recipient feel good. It means you are noticed, appreciated and yes, maybe even loved. The touching that happens not because you did something, but to encourage you and acknowledge you is probably the most powerful. It's one thing to touch after a score, it's another to touch when you are behind in the game and not playing well. The touch in that situation means, "Hey, we're together, we'll pull through, it's going to be good."

We Americans are often not terribly good at touching in our families, and in our communities. Often we hesitate, afraid to offend. Other times, we stiffen and appear uncomfortable. I know for me, it is easier to give than to receive. When I get a hug at church, I have to remind myself to relax physically and accept it for the affirmation that it is. Usually, it feels pretty good, once I relax. You married people, you certainly know what a loving touch can do for your spouse.

So, take this away: touch someone like you mean it today. Especially your kids.

Some links for you: Wikio has a list of citations for this, and the New York Times mentions Dr. Kraus' work here.


Ann T. said...

Dear The observer,
Captain Schmoe over at Report on Conditions has a post about intangible qualities for employees that I think relates to this--that intangibles are important.

B/c of sexual harassment rules, most front-line managers are more-or-less forbidden to clap their employees on the back, squeeze their arm, or otherwise touch them. I guess a handshake and a high-five is all that's left.

As we improve the workplace, we've taken away things too. I just get lost. I think touching people is vastly important. And not harassing them too.

Thanks for reminding me,
a thoughtful post!

Ann T.

the observer said...

Ann T

There are those lawyers, gumming things up again. :-(

Sometimes, I think people are just too darn sensitive, and we end up with "zero tolerance" instead of something sensible. Then we miss out on the benefits that this study picked up.

The Observer