The Success and The Failures of Lefthanders in Sports
There have been so many famous and successful lefthanders in professional sports over the past half-century that some people have come to believe lefthanders have an advantage in sports. However, a closer look shows that these famous and successful lefthanders more likely an exception, rather than the rule. While lefthanders may be well-represented among the best players in their games, they are not nearly as well-represented among the rank and file, and at the lower levels of their game.
In spite of all the successful lefthanders playing sports, there are many obstacles that prevent more lefthanded people from learning to play the sports they love, and playing them to the best of their ability. Each sport presents different challenges for lefthanders learning to play. In some sports the actual design of the playing field, or the rules of play show favor toward righthanders. In other sports the lack of proper equipment for lefthanders makes it harder for them to play, and almost all offer righthanded instructions are harder for lefthanders to follow. But the biggest obstacle facing lefthanders occurs as infants and toddlers as they develop basic motor skills and hand/eye coordination, long before they ever get on a field with other children or meet their first gym teacher or sports coach.
As infants, lefthanded children are often torn between their natural inclination to use their left hand, and the influence of society (and their parents and other adults) to use their right hand. Even in todays’ modern, enlightened world, very few lefthanded children receive wholehearted support from the first time they display the tendency to favor their left hand. There is usually a (short) period of time where their preference may not be recognized or accepted, and any resistance may delay the development of their left hand strength and coordination.
There is a common myth or perception that lefthanded children are likely to be awkward, clumsy, and uncoordinated, but they are not necessarily born this way. The resistance they face, whether intentional or not, slows down their development. It can make them slower to learn to walk and run, slower to learn to throw and catch a ball, and slower in general to develop their motor skills, their reflexes and their coordination. Every minute wasted on their right hand is a lost opportunity to develop the left. And each time a child is asked “what’s wrong with them” or told that they are “doing it backwards” contributes to a lack of confidence which often worsens the physical difficulties.
By the time children reach the age where they are ready to play sports and compete against other children, and take instruction from teachers and coaches, many lefthanders are already at a competitive disadvantage against righthanders in basic skills and confidence. Many lefthanded children don’t want to play sports when the opportunity arises, and many of their parents are afraid to let them play. Those who do attempt to play and learn are often frustrated and stifled by the lack of opportunity, and are more likely to give up and lose interest in sports before they get a chance to develop.
Over the next few pages we’ll write more about the difficulties lefthanders face in specific sports, and offer ideas to ease those difficulties and even the playing field. We’ll start with the most popular sports before moving into others where the difficulties might not be as obvious. And if there are any real advantages, beyond the element of surprise, we’ll point them out. We’ll also talk about sports where left hand play is strongly discouraged, or even forbidden for safety concerns. There are too many lefthanded people who have been deprived of the joy of playing sports. Even if it is too late for their professional aspirations, it is never too late to learn a new skill and have some fun with it.