Testing the advantage of being left-handed in sports

November 22, 2017 by Bob Yirka, Phys.org report
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

(Phys.org)—Sports scientist Florian Loffing with the Institute of Sport Science, University of Oldenburg in Germany has conducted a study regarding the possibility of left-handed athletes having an advantage over their right-handed counterparts. In his paper published in the journal Biology Letters, Loffing describes assembling data on athletes from several sports, analyzed it and found what he describes as a pattern.

Some people believe that being left-handed confers an advantage for athletes—they are ranked more often on top lists than statistics would suggest. Only 10 percent of people are left-handed, yet there are many famous left-handed athletes such as Wayne Gretzky, Lou Gehrig, Oscar De La Hoya and Martina Navratilova. Interestingly, it seems that this is an area of research that few have studied. To fill that void, Loffing conducted a study designed to offer more than an opinion on the matter. He collected stats on the top 100 left-handed athletes in six major sports for the period 2009 to 2014: , , squash, cricket, baseball and badminton. He then compared them to one another based on handedness.

After some number crunching, Loffing reports that he found a pattern—in sports where there is a short time constraint, lefties appeared to excel. He found, for example, that just 9 percent of the top 100 players in slower time-response sports, such as squash, were left-handed. In sharp contrast, 30 percent of the top players in sports like baseball (at least for pitchers) were lefties. One sport, table tennis, which is possibly the fastest competitive sport of all, stood out—Loffing reports that 26 percent of the top male players are lefties. In general, he found that sports with short response times like baseball, table tennis and cricket were 2.6 times as likely to have top lefties.

In light of his conclusions, Loffing wonders if being lefty offered early humans an advantage—the element of surprise in fights with other humans or even animals might have made a difference. That might explain, he suggests, why left-handedness has not evolved away, pointing out that some prior research by others has shown that there is a higher rate of left-handedness in traditional warlike societies.

Explore further: Shedding light on southpaws: Sports data help confirm theory explaining left-handed minority in general population

More information: Florian Loffing. Left-handedness and time pressure in elite interactive ball games, Biology Letters (2017). DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2017.0446

Abstract
According to the fighting hypothesis, frequency-dependent selection gives relatively rarer left-handers a competitive edge in duel-like contests and is suggested as one mechanism that ensured the stable maintenance of handedness polymorphism in humans. Overrepresentation of left-handers exclusively in interactive sports seems to support the hypothesis. Here, by referring to data on interactive ball sports, I propose that a left-hander's advantage is linked to the sports' underlying time pressure. The prevalence of left-handers listed in elite rankings increased from low (8.7%) to high (30.39%) time pressure sports and a distinct left-hander overrepresentation was only found in the latter (i.e. baseball, cricket and table tennis). This indicates that relative rarity and the interactive nature of a contest are not sufficient per se to evoke a left-hander advantage. Refining the fighting hypothesis is suggested to facilitate prediction and experimental verification of when and why negative frequency-dependent selection may benefit left-handedness.

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rrwillsj
3.4 / 5 (5) Nov 22, 2017
Family members told me I was born left-handed. But once I started school it was beaten out of me. Originally cause left-handed is the devil's mark. Then at more 'modern' public schools, because it was considered a warning of future anti-social behavior.

Since then I cannot write script with my left-hand. I have managed to retrain myself to be ambidextrous for all other functions.

Interesting, the speculation that over the ages that lefties may have has an advantage in the hunt and battles.

Training myself to punch with my left was helpful in a couple of fistfights.

I can see this article influencing some of odds laid by the LV bookmakers.

However, I wonder about massed armies accepting lefties. In the phalanx or other battle formations, wouldn't mixing lefties and righties risk holding a shield wall? And risk entangling weaponry?

"Hayfoot!" "Stawfoot!" is the key to marching and especially maneuvering in formation.

How many fighter pilots are lefties?
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (3) Nov 23, 2017
@rrw
Family members told me I was born left-handed. But once I started school it was beaten out of me
Very common in older generations, especially in certain area's of the US
However, I wonder about massed armies accepting lefties
this may have been something to consider in the days of yore, but modern tactics don't consider this much as it's not relevant, really
How many fighter pilots are lefties?
I've known quite a few
I have managed to retrain myself to be ambidextrous for all other functions
not as easy as some would believe

even for the ambidextrous like myself, there are things that are more comfortable with a select hand

even though I can use either hand, I drive almost exclusively left-handed and I write almost exclusively right-handed, mostly because the gear shift is on the right and I carry left-handed as I'm left eye dominant, so I keep the left hand free
daqddyo
5 / 5 (4) Nov 23, 2017
Lefty sword fighters have a distinct advantage. They are used to fighting rightys, but the reverse is just the opposite. Think of all the nasty moves the lefty would have.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (4) Nov 23, 2017
I can't tell ya how many dinners I went to bed without cuz I refused to use my right hand. Grandma was one, tuff fundamentalist nazi about it. But, I was more tuffer...:-)
Anyway, because I was deemed too small to be any good at team sports (all those missed dinners, apparently), I took up gymnastics and track. Got quite good at it, if I say so, m'self...
However, it's that right brain that caused problems in my dealings with authority figures, so...
Sex, drugs and rock-n-roll became my thing...:-)
jonesdave
5 / 5 (3) Nov 23, 2017
Cricket, chaps. Batted left handed. Always buggers the RH bowlers up. Bowling left arm spin? Takes it away from the right hander. Darts? Makes no difference! I imagine baseball would be similar to cricket. It just stuffs up the 90% of people that are RHers. Lots of decent LH golfers, but courses tend to be designed for RHers. Mickelson is an example of a decent leftie, though. Trent Boult is a decent left arm bowler who gives people the willies. Different angle. Different things to think about.

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