A Carolina Hurricanes blog with occasional news about the rest of the NHL.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

handedness in the general population and in hockey

Because I don't have a wife, or even a girlfriend, or anything resembling a social life...

A couple of weeks ago while I was out with a friend, we were approached by a slightly hot but extremely drunk girl who was fascinated with the fact that my friend Kevin is left-handed. She sat with us a while, and we actually discussed left-handedness for a few minutes.

It gets worse.

Kevin pointed out, correctly, that approximately 14% of the overall population is left handed, and that it is much more prevalent in men than in women. The drunk girl was left handed, for the record.

I guessed that while it might be true that only 14% of the general population, the percentage would be much higher for athletes. My guess was that 40% of athletes are left-handed. As soon as I got home, I looked up a few articles on the internets concerning left-handedness. All of them confirmed that roughly 12-15% of the general population is left handed. The article at wikipedia didn't have any mention of significantly higher percentages in sports, but it did mention other demographics where left handedness is much more prevalent. Twins; people with Down's Syndrome, autism or mental retardation; and as one study suggests(pdf file), pedophiliacs. And Osama bin Laden.

I'm just sayin'.

That isn't my point.

I went through all of the current rosters in the NHL. At least the current rosters, as listed by Wikipedia. All of the rosters are current, and although some rosters include a few players who won't be in the NHL, I counted them anyway.
Forwards and defensemen are listed by whether they have a "right" shot or a "left" shot, while goalies are listed by which hand they catch with. For the purposes of my study, I modified that to indicate which hand the goalies hold the stick with.

While it isn't the case that everyone who has a left shot is actually left handed (or right-right for that matter), this is the best indicator to the player's "strong" hand. Eric Staal is a left shot, but he is actually right handed. I don't have any idea how many other players are like that.

Anyway, I went through all the rosters and was surprised to find that while goalies match up statistically with the overall population, defensemen are WAY off the chart as 70.17% of them are left shots. 60.18% of forwards are left shots. Even when you include the righty-friendly goalies, 58.61% of players play left handed.

The real question is how many of them actually are left-handed. Does anyone know? And am I wrong to assume that a goalie who catches with his left is right handed?


grego said...

Interesting topic. I have nothing statistically concrete to add, but as a kid growing up in rural Saskatchewan where pretty much everyone played hockey into their teens, I would say that there is no correlation between hand-writing/scissor holding/any other right/left handedness and puck shooting. With elite athletes, you may find differences, but I would be skeptical.
Anyways, congrats to the Canes (and fans), great blog, and what do you really think about that Brind'Amour contract? Is he really gonna play until 42, cause if not that is gonna be one bad cap hit.

Josh Crockett said...

You're making the correct assumption on goaltender handedness. It's just easier to describe the keeper by glove hand, since different goalies handle the puck differently (some slide the blocker up and grab the base of the paddle with the catching glove, while some reverse the stick and use the blocker hand as the lower hand).

What I was told when I started playing hockey at 14 (once a rink opened in Richmond) is that you should determine your proper stick hand by using the opposite hand from your dominant eye, so that eye would stay up as you stickhandled. My right eye appeared to be dominant, so I went lefty (I'm naturally ambidextrous). Wikipedia suggests 2/3 of the population is right-eye dominant, so if that is in fact the correct rule, then it makes sense that more than half of hockey players shoot lefty.

Jeff J said...

At every level of hockey I've seen, the majority of players are left-hand shots. I haven't noticed an abnormal proportion of left-handedness among them. Myself, my brother, and my dad all shoot left but are right-handed. We all golf right-handed too. Maybe we're genetic freaks.

Something else interesting that I read somewhere: two-thirds of Canadian players shoot left and two-thirds of American players shoot right. It could be a cultural thing.

tj said...

I started to comment but it was getting long, so
here ya go.

Chris said...

Well, my Canadian hockey friends tell me that they are taught to have their dominant hand on top for stick handling (shovel analogy) and to keep their dominant side "open" to more of the ice, for better visibility. Many Americans (such as myself) probably do the opposite because they don't know better when they start.

This is why you have so many lefty shots in the NHL, because most of them are right-handed.

Drew said...

I agree with Chris, based on what I've heard and read in books on teaching beginner hockey.

I might also suggest that Americans who didn't grow up in hockey-friendly areas but learned to play later in life probably played baseball first. So to make the switch from a "now-natural" right-handed swing to a left-handed shot is too much for our/my pea-brain to handle.

DrFrankLives said...

You've been tagged. Sorry.


Chris said...

Right on, Drew. True to your example, I did play baseball and I am a right-handed batter, so it feels more comfortable using the hockey stick that way too.

It's probably a good thing I'm not a goalie, because I catch left handed too, which means my stick would be "backwards" to me. It would be messy. I suppose I could catch right-handed, but it would just be too confusing.

Tom L said...

I'm just fascinated by the demographics that being left-handed is 'associated' with.... cause, well, I'm left-handed.


When I'm in one of my more "Is he serious?" modes, I will argue that lefties are, by far, the most discriminated group of people on the planet....but, I won't go so far as to suggest gov't subsidy or protection, only to point out the idiocy of doing so for any other reason. :)

Thanks D-L, good read this.

Oh, and btw, I'm beginning to think you're doing a better job covering the Sabres right now than I am. *bow*


Doogie2K said...

Well, my dad was right-handed, but he shot left as a defenceman, so it does suggest to me that some people change handedness for whatever reason. Pain in the ass for me as a kid, since I always inherited his old "backwards" sticks, but at least I had the best damned backhand in my cul-de-sac.

Anonymous said...

I play, and am right handed. I started out shooting right, but an injury forced me to switch sticks. Now I shoot left. This puts my coordinated hand on top (controlling my stick) and my weak hand on the bottom (gliding/guiding). Man what a difference! I was better in no time. I would say your statistics show that most right handed players shoot left, and that's my explaination.

Anonymous said...

I had an opportunity to purchase game used sticks from the Minnesota Wild, and I discovered three things. The majority of the sticks shot left (which angered me because I shoot right. The sticks were quite short, even for the players that were over 6' 2" and above they could barely reach the bottom of the neck or collarbone. Finally, the sticks had practically no curve to them, and they could shoot well from the forehand or backhand.

Anonymous said...

I don't think you're correct to assume that the "handedness" on hockeysticks and actual handedness match.
Though there are obvious differences, the stickwork in floorball is much the same. A webshop I use for equipment that serves Sweden and Norway reports a sale of roughly 7/10 left sticks for a population that isn't 70% left handed, or anywhere near it.
Though a lot of right handed people will feel it's natural to use their right hand on top for control of the stick, making them L, there's also simply preference playing into it, making it more complex than simply assuming L means left as you did, or swapping it to mean L -> right handed.

Anonymous said...

Ovechkin is a righty and shoots right


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