Bill Maher tweet mocks Tim Tebow, but does prayer enhance playing?

Bill Maher’s tweet mocking Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow’s faith might be rebounding. Although the “Real Time With Bill Maher” host would not be the first celebrity to poke fun at the outspokenly religious Tebow, his comment on Twitter after the Broncos lost to the Buffalo Bills this weekend -- “Wow, Jesus just f----- #TimTebow bad! And on Xmas Eve! Somewhere in hell Satan is tebowing, saying to Hitler ‘Hey, Buffalo’s killing them’” -- is gaining attention for perhaps being the crudest.

Faith and sports so often seem to go hand in hand. Take this 2008 study in BMJ, which examined the “perceived wisdom that papal mortality is related to the success of the Welsh rugby union team.” The study’s (presumably) tongue-in-check conclusion? “Given the dominant Welsh performances of 2008, the Vatican medical team should take special care of the pontiff this Christmas.”

But in all seriousness, when it comes to physical and mental perfomance, there does seem to be some advantage to engaging in some sort of belief system. According to a 2010 study published in the journal Psychological Science, a series of experiments showed that “activating good-luck-related superstitions via a common saying or action (e.g., ‘break a leg,’ keeping one’s fingers crossed) or a lucky charm improves subsequent performance in golfing, motor dexterity, memory, and anagram games.” Further experiments helped break down why: When these beliefs are engaged, it boosts a person’s self-confidence, which improves how well they end up doing on a given task.

Other studies also have looked at whether faith-based physical activity programs (perhaps taking advantage of the social support available) have relatively more success for sedentary members of African American communities than standard programs.

Ultimately, whether or not a little prayer actually helps the team score a touchdown is probably in the eye of the beholder. But if those subtle changes make a player more confident and more likely to raise his or her game, it probably can’t hurt.


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