Leading With Their Left…
the advantages for left-handers in sport
It is often stated that sport is a prime example of left-handers superiority, but what are the reasons behind this theory?
The “leftie advantage” seems to emerge in sports demanding rapid reactions and good spatial judgement. In fencing for example 7 of the 16 top world fencers are left-handed, and so are 5 of the top 25 international tennis players and 4 of Europe's ten best table tennis payers. In boxing, squash and cricket left-handers also enjoy more than average success. Among the scientists who have studied left-handedness in sport one in particular, a French neuroscientist named Guy Azemar, investigated the proportion of left-handers in world-class championships over several years. He reported that about a third of elite fencers are left-handed. One fencing great was the Italian Edoardo Mangiarotti who won a total of 13 fencing medals. Mangiarotti was naturally right-handed but was forced by his father to fence with his left hand as it was thought to be an advantage.
During his study for the French Institute of Sport and Physical Education, Azemar became convinced that sporting lefties have an innate advantage, particularly in “opposition” sports. To explain why, he concentrates on the way the brain is wired up. The brain consists of two halves (hemispheres) each performing different tasks, and it is sometimes thought that in left-handers these functions are more evenly distributed between the two sides i.e. our brains are more symmetrical. For example, in a left-handed tennis player the control of movements and part of space management are performed on the right side of the brain.
This means that the process of the player seeing the ball coming and actually hitting the ball are both dealt with by the same hemisphere. In a right-hander this visual information has to transfer to the opposite hemisphere to direct the player's movement, adding an extra 20 or 30 milliseconds to the reaction time – hardly significant one would think, but it can be decisive in world class sport.
Greg Rusedski (pictured right) once had the worlds fastest serve. The Canadian-born star switched to play for Great Britain in 1995. He held the world record for the fastest-ever serve, 149mph at Indian Wells in 1998. It has since been broken by Andy Roddick during a Stella Artois Championship match against Paradorn Srichaphan at the Queen's Club, London, UK, on June 11, 2004. He his a whopping 153 mph!
Many scientists agree the left-handers could have a sporting advantage, but think it is not simply a question of speed. Some American researchers think that left-handers may actually possess enlarged right hemispheres, giving them superior spatial skills.
Two psychologists at Durham University, Charles Wood and John Aggleton, think that the advantage is more likely tactical than neurological. They claim that with a large enough sample of world-class tennis results from several years the leftie effect vanishes. However, when Wood and Aggleton analysed cricket yearbooks, they found that a higher proportion of professional cricketers bowled with their left hand – about 20% leading to their theory that the advantage is tactical. Left-handed bowlers have the benefit of unfamiliarity and they can bowl at a different angle and move the ball in the opposite direction to their right-handed counterparts.
Tactical advantages of left-handers are also well established in tennis and squash. Martina Navratilova once pointed out that many players have pet shots such as hitting the ball across court to their opponent's weaker backhand. If they play this shot against a left-hander then it will go to the lefties stronger forehand. A left-hander also has an awkward serve that swings away from the backhand of the right-hander.
However, the main advantage for left-handers in fast sports would seem to be practical. Lefties are perfectly used to playing right-handers but for right-handers, a left-handed opponent is a very tricky exception. It could also be that right-handers are put at a psychological disadvantage simply by knowing their opponent will be left-handed and expecting them to have this advantage.
Left-Handers Club members comment on their experiences in sport
These are some of the comments and advice about sports that we have had sent to us by email in the past:
|I've often felt I had an advantage being left handed, especially in racket sports. Playing badminton and squash, my opponent, invariably right handed, always played shots to what he perceived as my backhand, only for them to be returned. It used to take them a long time to work out why I kept winning. The only time I came unstuck was when playing another left hander, which threw me, as I couldn't work out why he kept returning my winners. Playing doubles in badminton with a right hander often causes complications and injuries when both try to play the same shot on the forehand.|
|There are some sports, tennis and crickets as mentioned in the article, where left handers ‘appear' to have an advantage. I think the advantage lies in their rarity in that opponents have more difficulty developing strategies for defeating them.Where this is not an issue, e.g. in golf, successful left handers a very rare, Gary Player, Mike Weir and Phil Mickelson being notable exceptions. Perhaps left handers are just more noticeable because they add another dimension to their sports. Ray Jackson|
|I think being left handed in racket sports is a distinct advantage, as the majority of players are right handed, and will play the majority of games against right handed people. They then have to adjust when playing us. We, on the other hand, play against right handers the majority of the time, so have a distinct advantage. When two left handers play each other, it is such a rarity we both have to adjust, so there is no advantage either way. I do have problems coaching cricket, especially bowling. Roger Watson|
|I have found that being a LH bat in cricket annoyed and confused the bowlers and fielders, which was good for me! I am cross-lateral, so with one hand I am RH, and played RH at tennis and table-tennis – more confusion!I always wanted to play hockey, and was told I couldn't – shame! And quite cross to find in later years that you CAN – just turn the stick round, and play it hook-down instead of hook-up! Just don't get involved with the bully-off!! Archery is also interesting, as my left eye is dominant, so I have to hold the bow with my right arm and aim with the left eye, but that limits me because my stronger right arm is not available to pull the bowstring! As a teacher I have found student lefties to be gifted artistically, and imaginative thinkers. (or is that just my prejudice?) Chris Watts|
|Being left handed playing hockey was a distinct advantage because the left hand is the one that controls the stick. A right handed friend of mine fenced, and he complained bitterly when he had to fence against a left hander.|
|When I was at school I was always the last person to be picked out on teams because of being left handed. My favourite sport was rounders, and like all the other right handed girls I would hold the rounders bat in my right hand, all the fielder's would there for stand to the left ready to catch us out. However as soon as the bowler had thrown the ball when it was my turn I would swiftly change the bat into my left hand and whack the ball to the right hand side (where no one was stood) and get myself a full circuit of the rounders field!!!!!!!!! Whenever the weather permitted us to play (which was not all that often in Buxton) my class mates would have forgotten and I could pull off the same scam again! Anne Osborn|
|A cricketing friend maintains that all left handed bowlers and batsmen should have been put down at birth. I bowl left handed, but bat right handed. I've noticed a lot of professional cricketers often bat or bowl to their opposite hand, such as Richard Hadlee and Graham Dilley, who both bowled right handed and batted left handed. Then there was Brian Close, who could bat both right and left handed, and played golf either way off 7.|
|I agree that being left handed can be really advantageous in certain sports. I used to practice fencing, and in that sport it is definitely and advantage…in fact, I believe that the percentage of left-handed fencers in top ranking position if fairly high! Chiara Della Mea|
(I am a baseball fan though, and whenever it comes to cheering on a player or team, I always pay special attention to the lefties) . Over the years, my three favorite players were left-handed. The first player was left-handed off the field, but right-handed on. His story is that his family couldn't afford another baseball mitt, so he got a hand-me-down from his right-handed brother and it stuck. The second player was left-handed in all regards. My latest favorite – Barry Zito – is right-handed off the field, but left-handed on. He was born with a birthmark on his left wrist and his (spiritual) family figured that he would do something special with that arm, that the birthmark was a sign from heaven. It turns out they were right, that it was natural for him to throw a baseball left-handed. Pretty wild, huh? – Kristina, Los Angeles, California
When I was going to school and learned to play baseball, they didn't have a baseball glove for a left-hander so I wore a right-handers glove. Whenever I played, I tossed and caught the ball with the same hand. When I was the pitcher I was quitea sight pulling on and off the glove topitch the ball or catch it. I was ahard thrower, but burned out quickly fortunately or I would have driven my own self crazy.
We have seen Nike baseball bats used in major league baseball by both right and left handed players.
|Being left-handed is a definite advantage in baseball. As a batter, you're three feet closer to first base – this can make all the difference in a tight play. Similarly a left-handed first base man has a huge advantage over his right-handed colleague since he can make the throw to second base without having to turn his body. Of course, the reverse would be true for a third base man. Jonathan Hayes|
I found being left handed a distinct advantage when playing ‘field' hockey, even though you're only allowed to play right-handed. Why? We often had a warm up of running round the field carrying the hockey stick held at the very end in the left hand only at arms length across the body to strengthen the supposedly weaker left wrist. One up to me already!
|I'm not much of an athlete, but when I took an interest in softball during middle school (junior high), I was drafted onto a team rather quickly on account of me being left-handed. That's the only reason I can figure because I wasn't very good and had no experience prior to that year. When they wanted to play me, they stuck me in right field, where balls are *never* hit so I wouldn't be a nuisance on the field.
So why bother having me out there at all? Well, because they wanted me to hit. Or at least stand in the batter's box and confuse the pitcher, who no doubt had seen very few left-handed hitters in her day. More often than not, I would get a walk, and pray that I wouldn't have to run the bases because I was pretty slow. Needless to say, I only played one year of softball and moved onto swimming.
|For example, with gymnastics the usual way of turning cartwheels (using dictionary here, hope you understand) is to put the right foot forward and put your right hand on the ground first (the teacher will stand and the right side (where your back is to help if necessary) but left handers turn the other way, with a result that I almost knocked the teeth out of the teachers mouth with my feet.|
|I recently read a newspaper article, that said the reason athletes run anti-clockwise around the track is due to right handers having a stronger outside right leg for the bends. They tried an experiment and ran a race clockwise and found times were significantly slower. Therefore track events are biased towards right handers. Adrian Atkins|
|Another problem could be ballet, pirouettes are taught turning on the right foot, not on the left. Met vriendelijke groeten. Karin van der Vliet-Vermooten|
|The main advantage in the sport (and this could possibly be linked into the report on ‘Nature's Fighters') is that a right hander's sword-arm is on the same side of the piste as a left-handers rather than the usual diagonal arrangement when fighting a right-hander. As such the rightie tends not to guard his/her right hand side as much, where a leftie will guard against attack from both sides. It's actually difficult to describe in an email, but it's fun to watch the penny slowly drop with an opponent when they wonder why they are losing hits so easily.|
|It is always a struggle being lefthanded at sports, not only are lefthanded baseball mittens (or should I say right-handed… no left….sorry confusing myself now) specially available. It is also difficult if something is usually done the right-handed way and you as a lefthander are endangering others.|
|I think the statistic for fencers is that despite the fact that about 10% of the world are left-handed, only about 1% of fencers are left-handed. ‘Other' fencers generally regard left-handers as awkward, some actually relish fencing left-handers seeing it as a true mark of their skill if they can achieve a victory without giving away too many hits.|
Being left handed also allowed me to come up on an opponent from behind and on the wrong (that being their right) side. And swing in a very accurate single-handed hit (left-handed obviously) to knock the ball away. It was a move that none of my right-handed team mates (or opponents for that matter) ever did.
|Re: fencing, when I was young – a long time ago, roundabout the end of WWII – I was a keen fencer and for a while a member of the London Fencing Club. My coach told me I had an almost unfair advantage in being left-handed as most fencers hardly ever met one and didn't know how to deal with us. Looking back I think I often got in an scored hits I didn't deserve so it was definitely an advantage. Being moderately ambidextrous I also fenced the normal way round and had a special pair of foils, one left-handed and one right-handed. It was not long before the right-handed one was left in my sports bag and I stuck with the left-handed one! I'm sure I did better in one or two competitions than I deserved just because I fought left-handed! Viv Allen|
I currently do fencing and a lot of people admit they aren't used to fighting a left-hander and are put off by it. It also means that attacking and defensive moves that would be good used by a right hander against another right-hander don't work and rather than being say defensive a move will actually open the fencer up to attack from a left-hander. And being a left-hander means that sometimes it's just nice to fool with people's heads.
I just thought I might throw a spanner in the works .Brian Lara listed, as a left handed batsman, is really a right handed bat and so many right handed batsmen are technically left handed .My explanation for this is that the hand you control the bat with is your dominate hand (THE TOP HAND),and if you look at the photo you can see it is his right hand( the left hand i.e. the bottom hand is only there to help the leading hand ).
|Lefthanded pitchers have a tremendous advantage. They can throw a natural curve without hardly any training. Have you played with a frisbee. Many times a right-hander cannot catch a frisbee thrown by a lefthander because it is spinning the opposite way, Lefthanders are used to this and have an advantage. The only position a baseball player cannot play is catcher. They do not make lefthanded mitts.
|I used to play softball. It's a very big advantage being lefthanded because no pitcher could get used to it. Feels good to have this power. It resulted in good trust in myself, so I was a very good hitter. It also feels good to hear the catcher scream “leftyyyyyyy!” to her field and than see the field players move to (for my sight) the right. Great! Felt like being the queen of the game, each time again. Merijn Panhuijsen|
A great New Zealand batter and bowler,Richard Hadley was regarded as a true left hander as he bowled with his left hand and batted with his left hand at the top of the bat (which is the controlling hand of a batsmen). You can hold a bat and play a stroke with one hand with a cricket bat and it is generally done with the dominate hand i.e. the top hand . I hope this gives everybody something to mull over. Regards, Neil Stewart
|OK- left-handed pitchers in US major league baseball have longer careers than righties. A good lefty relief pitcher is a treasure in any bullpen. As for personal experience, being a lefty was a wonderful advantage as a fencer. The only time it got crazy was when I had to fence my mirror image. The coach figured out a way to ameliorate that problem – he had a fellow lefty on the men’s team spar with me! Jessica Feeley|
|I definitely believe we lefties have an advantage in sports. I have played basketball, softball, and my favorite volleyball. In all of these sports, I had the upperhand because being that everyone else was right handed if I tried to make a move, no one would expect it from that direction. They are used to defending right-handed moves rather than left-handed ones, which resulted positively for my team! The only downside to being left-handed and engaging in sports is that there really isn't anyone that can show us techniques the way we need to see them. Which results in us either having to teach ourselves or adapt our own version of the technique…(which, in some cases, could benefit us!) Lindsey Whitaker|
|I saw the article on lefties in sport and I have found that it's great, particularly in my preferred sport, fencing. It's an acknowledged fact within the sport that lefties are something of a rarity, i.e. a right-hander will most likely train with other right-handers and not come up against a leftie until competition.|
|Just wanted to add, I am left-handed and play table-tennis, and find it quite an advantage – mainly because people are used to hitting to a right-hander backhand, generally weaker, which is then my forehand, and stronger side. In doubles, and right-left handed partnership works very well. Also, in doubles you serve from the right court to the opposite right court, and as a left-hander I serve from the right court anyway, but a right-hander can't use his normal serve from the left side so easily. Slightly negative, when practising, it is better to be the same handedness as your opponent, eg forehand to forehand cross court, whereas I am the one doing backhands to someone's forehand. On the whole, great being unique, but I also find it difficult playing other left-handers! Ruth Bridcut|
Firstly let me kindly correct you on one point! You CAN play field hockey left handed! We have two in our club, and it IS a tremendous advantage for them!
They play is if they were a conventional player using reverse stick. But because they are left handed they can generate a lot more power. Also the way they hold their stick gives them the ability to turn quickly in either direction. It is very rare to see and a nightmare to play against!
The rule in field hockey is that there are no left handed sticks. The heads on the sticks all have to bend in the same direction. But there is nothing stopping you from PLAYING left handed! If you can, it is a BIG advantage. I also could talk for hours about the advantages in cricket, and the benefits I have had from being left handed. Let me know if you would like me to send them to you!! Duncan Fielding
Editors Note: Click here for a site with more details and pictures of left-handed hockey playing
What do you think?
Please let us know if you think us lefties have an advantage or disadvantage in sports and tell us about your own experiences with individual sports. We will organise all your comments into pages about individual sports so that the conversation can continue in more detail and we can link to any resources we find that may help people.