New balls please

Thanks to high profile scandals involving cyclist Lance Armstrong and athletics coach Alberto Salazar, we’re more aware than ever of illegal performance enhancing substances in sport.

This has led to a serious clampdown. These days it feels like you can’t run an egg and spoon race without being required to give blood or pee in a cup.

Hey, we’re not complaining, quite right too. We’re all about the natural on this site, as you know.

It’s why we’ve got no problem with a new study revealing that top level tennis players have been using steroids for years. Because these athletes are getting high on their own supply. They already get a vital edge from their own organic levels of testosterone .. if they are winning.

The Winning Effect

This phenomenon has been observed by biologists in almost every area of the animal kingdom, from monkeys down to insects.

When animals anticipate a challenge they experiences an automatic surge in testosterone. That’s important because – as we may have mentioned once or twice before on this site – T causes an increase in strength, stamina and confidence.

After the competition the winner can experience another T boost of up to ten times what they had before. The loser on the other hand sees their hormone levels dip significantly.

So does the same principle apply to humans? You would certainly think so, but the reality is it’s a difficult thing to test accurately.

Body size, skill set, motivation, all of these are factors that might potentially skew results.

Hot streak or not streak?

Until this most recent study a lot of scientists have dismissed the idea of The Winner Effect. Many what are called Behavioural Economists put the idea down to a misinterpreting of how probability works.

In 1985, a paper called ‘Hot Hand in Basketball’ attempted to debunk the idea of a winning streak by giving questionnaires to basketball fans, gauging their beliefs about the form of certain players. These were then compared to the players’ actual stats.

Sure enough the researchers found no real link and claimed that, among other reasons, the fallacy occurs because it’s human nature to want to see patterns that improve the chances of winning.

Anyone for T-nnis?

A new piece of work however, by former Wall Street trader John Coates and Lionel Page, an economist at the Queensland University of Technology Business School, appears to have put the idea of a hormonal domino effect, back on the table.

Examining nearly 400,000 tennis matches they narrowed the study down to only the players most closely matched in rank. Then they focused in again on the matches that ran particularly close, in this case the ones where the first set went to a tie break.

Coates explains the reasons for this;

“We were able to isolate situations where players were equally matched in long-term ability and in playing form on the day of a match and then to observe that winning in itself, controlling for this ability, led to further victories.”

The results were that the male player who won the tight first set had a roughly 60% chance of going on to win the second. The loser on the other hand had only about a 40% chance.

Crucially no similar correlation was found in the women’s matches examined. Women who triumphed in the first set under similar conditions had a 51% probability of taking the second, while weirdly, those who lost out had marginally better odds of 53%.

Okay, so no testosterone readings were taken.

But this trial being about as close to those animal studies as it’s possible to get and levels of T being one of the main hormonal differences between the sexes, researchers are confident they have proved a connection.

Coates again:

“Our protocol is a very clean and powerful test of a winner effect in human competitions. It’s amazing what you can discover if you ditch all the theory coming from behavioural studies and look instead at what biologists have learned”

And don’t worry, you don’t always need a set tennis balls to feel the benefits of this performance enhancing loop. You just need the pair Mother Nature gave ya and a little bit of competition. As Coates simply puts it. “Winning feeds back on itself.”


So it pays to start trying to get that T up as high as it will go naturally.

It puts you in a strong position to win, which in turn gives you another totally healthy and above board spike, which increases your chances of winning, which will boost that hormone again, increasing your chances of winning, and there’s another surge, which….

(Editor’s note: I cut another 4 paragraphs of this. You’re welcome.)

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