Happy National Left-Handers Day…Sort of…
I bet you’re expecting me to list a bunch of left handed hockey players and gush over how amazing they are. After all, 89% of the world is right-handed so don’t those 11% deserve a shout out? Well I can’t. Why? Because Hockey is a sport where Left and Right handedness is totally jacked-up.
Even if you shoot left doesn’t mean you are left handed. In fact, it’s more likely you’re a righty if you’re shooting left. Here’s why…
The Right vs. Left Test
For the most part, the first test you have to pass when starting a new sport is when the clueless Sporting Goods Guy asks you “so what hand do you write with?” You stick your hand out and they hand you your stick (bat, club, racket etc…) Boom! You passed!
This seemingly works pretty well for sports like baseball, golf, tennis etc… So why did hockey have to screw up this great system? Hockey didn’t screw it up. Apparently Canada and Europe filpped the script.
There is a trend in US youth hockey to foster a child’s “comfort swing.” – meaning let them use their dominant hand in the lower position. There are differing reasons, but some include building early confidence in power shots and scoring early to keep the kid having fun. Others feel it takes away the frustration of also having to learn skating skills, again further keeping them from quitting before developing a passion for the sport.
The US approach is to make hockey fun right out of the gate and not risk discouraging the child to the point of frustration and quitting.
Canada & Europe
In Europe and Canada it’s expressly taught that the dominant hand should be the higher placement for stick handling and the less dominant hand lower for power. At an early age they push an ambidextrous skillset and they accredit a portion of their player’s success in the NHL to this early development strategy. This approach also set the stage for stronger off-wing players which are clutch players — think Pavel Datsyuk.
The popular theory is that by correcting any natural inclination, the young athlete will have a more rounded and controlled skill set — speeding up their development time. Europe & Canada have well-documented histories of younger athletes advancing quickly but it would be naive to not also factor in the stronger hockey-centric culture of these countries. Ambidextrous skills and cultural factors could also be equally contributing to rapid youth development and dedication to the sport.
So Which Way is the Best Way?
Approximately 64% of players in the NHL shoot left. And in a sampling where players were equal in almost all counts (size, weight, performance etc…) they only difference between L and R shooters was the Left shooters reached the NHL slightly sooner than the Right. But not by much.
With a record 12 Americans in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft its hard to suggest the US is doing something horribly wrong. US players (regardless of their shot) are finding their way quicker into the NHL than ever before. So who is right and who is wrong?
Any rational coach or athlete will tell you there is no right or wrong. When it comes to playing a sport and being passionate enough to choose it as your career means you’re all in. It just comes down to what “feels right” and knowing your strengths and weaknesses. That’s what makes each athlete unique and match ups so fun.
For all you true LEFTIE players… we don’t care if you shoot, swing or hit Right or Left… we still think you’re pretty awesome for putting up with all us RIGHT handers.