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  • Writer's pictureDoug Joachim

Lefties Make Better Athletes

Updated: Jul 11, 2023

Being left-handed used to be considered a disability that needed correcting. Some even thought lefties were cursed by the Prince of Darkness. Really, the devil?  ‘Handedness’ is a vague term fraught with misconceptions.  As long as you have two operational hands you likely use both of them, although prefer one over the other.  To a certain extent, we are all ambidextrous with one dominant hand.  The left-handed ‘devil’ has made up approximately 10% of the total human population since we started keeping records.  No more, no less.  In fact, many anthropologists believe this predilection dates all the way back to the era of cave painting hominids.  For most of human history, lefties were considered evil. Some were actually killed for their hand preference. Interestingly, a disproportionately high percentage of left-handed athletes have long dominated the world of sports. In the entirety of professional interactive sports, lefties make up a whopping 32% worldwide. To name a few greats:

  1. Babe Ruth

  2. Arnold Palmer

  3. Bobby Orr

  4. John McEnroe,

  5. Martina Navratilova

  6. Oscar De La Hoya

  7. Sandy Koufax

  8. Lionel Messi

  9. Pele

  10. Wayne Gretzky

  11. Ty Cobb

  12. Bill Russell

The left-handed dominance in sport seems to be mostly due to the element of surprise and some evidence pointing toward better reaction times.  Turns out it has nothing to do with witchcraft or evildoing.  Sorry, Satan. We live in a right handed world and athletes practice most of their lives against other right-handers. The amount of time competing and practicing against lefties is largely unequal.  Top athletes have very little time to respond to stimuli. Facing a rare left-handed opponent forces the right-handed athlete to make one extra calculation which eats up precious milliseconds.  This additional reaction time frequently results in a loss for the righty.

Interestingly, the number of righties and lefties is roughly equally distributed in most animals except for the human animal (although there are a few animals that show a pawedness preference).  So what gives? Science is at a loss for why humans have a preference for handedness although theories abound.  Recently, the gene PCSK6 has been linked to the early establishment of handedness in the growing embryo.  Researchers believe the development of handedness derives from a mixture of genes, environment, and cultural pressure to conform to right-handedness.  Notwithstanding, here are some of the more peculiar left-handed facts:

  1. In war-torn areas of the world, left-handed people make up more than 25% of the population. The ‘fighting hypothesis’ states lefties are more apt to win in battle due to the surprise effect.

  2. Right-handed women tend to live five years longer than left-handed women.

  3. Right-handed men live on average 10 years longer than left-handed men.

  4. The American Journal of Public Health found a higher rate of accident-related injuries in left-handed people.

  5. Lefties have faster reflexes than righties.  

  6. Out of our last 15 Presidents, 7 were left-handed.

  7. Men are more than 2x as likely to be born left-handed than women.

  8. Handedness is a heritable trait that can be seen in the womb.  

  9. Women over 40 are more than 2x as likely to give birth to left-handed babies than younger mothers

A left-handed person’s brain looks and works differently than a right handed individual’s.  Lefties seem to have a superior connection and more symmetry between both sides of the brain.  It has been shown that lefties process language and other sensory data in both hemispheres of their brain as opposed to righties which primarily use one-half of the brain.  Furthermore, lefties may not be good with scissors but studies show they have a distinct advantage in the bi-hemisphere processing of information.  In research, it has been shown that lefties process stimuli faster than righties.  The quicker a brain can transfer information the faster it can respond, which is unbelievably valuable in certain sports like baseball, tennis, fencing and fighting.  The increased efficiency between both parts of the brain may give lefties the advantage in not only sports but driving, flying fighter jets, gaming, shooting, and even texting.  Up to the early ’60s, it was common for school teachers to prohibit lefties from writing and doing other activities with their left hand.  Perhaps one day we’ll see a shift in the other direction and teachers/coaches will begin promoting ambidexterity.  Some research shows training the non-dominate hand/leg will have a crossover benefit to improved overall dexterity, motor control and strengthened pathways between your brain hemispheres.

Cross Education Effect: The untrained opposite limb increases in strength and neural activity when the opposing limb is worked. Since its discovery in 1894, subsequent studies have confirmed the existence of cross education in contexts involving voluntary, imagined and electrically stimulated contractions.

Practice doing things with your non-dominate hand on a regular basis (brushing teeth, computer surfing, eating etc) and it just might improve your mental and physical performance!



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