Are There Left- and Right-Handed Field Hockey Sticks?

Are There Left- and Right-Handed Field Hockey Sticks?

Types Of Field Hockey Sticks

Left- or right-hand dominance plays an essential role in our day-to-day lives, and it can significantly affect how we play sports, with allowances often being made regarding the equipment needed. Field hockey, however, is not so lenient.

Field hockey does not have left- and right-handed hockey sticks. One’s hand dominance does not dictate the equipment used, and all the sticks are right-handed. While left-handed sticks exist and can be bought, it is illegal to use them in official matches. Left-handed players must adapt to using the right-handed stick.

This article will explore the rules and regulations of field hockey pertaining to the hockey stick itself.

Hand Dominance

One’s hand dominance is something you are born with, and we predominantly find that people have a right-hand dominance. In fact, it is estimated that 90% of the world’s population is right-handed.

What is Hand Dominance?

We all have one hand that is naturally stronger and with which it is easier to practice fine motor skills, like writing and handling instruments. Even if an instrument requires both hands, we will keep our stronger hand in control. This is what is known as hand dominance.

Hand dominance can be observed in humans while still in the womb, but the exact way a dominant left or right-hand presents itself is not yet clear. Genetics plays a role, but environmental factors and simple chance also have an effect.

The brain also behaves differently between left- or right-handers. When right-handers imagine doing activities with their hands, they do it on the left side of their brain. Left-handers imagine it on the right side of the brain.

The two hemispheres of a left-hander’s brain are less lateralized, i.e., less different, than a right-hander’s. The two hemispheres don’t look different, but some processes that would mainly happen in just one hemisphere for right-handers is spread over both hemispheres for a left-hander (source).

Hand Dominance in Your Day-to-Day Life

Left-handers live in a world that has been designed for right-handed people. In the past, left-handed children would be forced to learn how to use their right hands, but these days, that is not the case.

In today’s world, we no longer see left-handedness as something to be corrected. Children can use specific scissors made for left-handers, as they learn the fine motor skill of cutting, and a lot of sports equipment, like golf clubs, is made for both left- and right-handers.

A measure of ambidexterity can often be found in naturally left-handed individuals as they learn to cope in a right-handed world. This ability to use both hands at an equal skill level can be beneficial, as it means that different parts of the brain can be activated and used differently as well.

The Impact of Hand Dominance on the Sports You Play

In some sports, like golf and ice hockey, left-handed equipment is available for players as your grip on sports equipment will be affected by your hand dominance. The psychological aspect is what is often the actual advantage, however.

When playing sports, a left-hander will probably have different strategies to cater to their left-handedness and make it work in their favour. Many left-handed people also have the ability to switch fairly easily between their left and right hands when playing, and, in many sports, this can be a great advantage.

Some right-handed players might be confused at first when playing against a left-handed opponent because it does not happen very often, and they will need to get used to the differences it causes. The left-handed player will not have the same stressor as they are used to playing against right-handers.

The psychological advantage of playing a sport left-handed is not translatable to field hockey because this sport is strictly right-handed.

Field Hockey Stick Design

Field Hockey Stick Design

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While it might not seem so at first glance, a lot of engineering and design goes into a field hockey stick. Unfortunately, safety concerns mean that adapting it for a left-handed player is not part of that design.

Hockey Stick Designs

The shape and elements of a hockey stick have not changed a whole lot since the start of officially organized games. The stick consists of the handle, the shaft, and the head.

If a hockey stick is held out in front of you in a playing position, the head’s flat side has to face towards the left. This is the playing side of your stick. The head’s rounded side faces towards the right and may not be used to strike the ball. This is true for all officially permitted hockey sticks.

The head’s shape has undergone a fair bit of change over the years in terms of curvature and surface area. From the J-shaped short head to the more U-shaped hook head, the different shapes come with their advantages and disadvantages when playing. Most players choose a head that is somewhere in-between the two.

The curvature of the stick, the bow, can also vary. The bow is determined by placing the stick playing-side down on a flat surface and measuring the greatest distance between the surface and the stick as it curves upward.

The maximum bow is just under an inch or 25 millimetres. The speed and power advantages of a larger bow should be weighed up against the challenges in handling.

The last element of a field hockey stick that has changed a lot over time is the material from which it is made. The head’s shape was initially limited by the single block of Mulberry wood from which it was made. Modern wooden hockey sticks are no longer made from a single block, but rather laminated together.

Wooden sticks are still popular, but modern composite sticks, consisting of resin, carbon fiber, kevlar, and fiberglass, are cheaper to make.

As with the other design elements, there are advantages and disadvantages to both types of sticks. You should carefully consider what you want from your hockey stick before committing to one (source).

How the Stick Is Used

When holding a hockey stick, your left hand is usually positioned at the top of the handle and is responsible for maneuvering and turning the stick. The right hand is placed at the bottom of the handle and provides power and control.

The distance between your hands will change as you play different shots, but your left hand will stay above your right (source).

The shape and hold of a hockey stick lend themselves well to the game generally being played from right to left as the ball is hit in that direction with the left, flat side of the stick.

The stick can be turned to execute left to right movements, of course, and, when dribbling, the stick will be turned quickly from side to side to keep the flat side in contact with the ball.

Changing the Stick for Left-handers

Though ice and field hockey are not precisely the same, there are some commonalities between the two, and they are easily compared. The sticks used, however, differ a great deal.

An ice hockey stick’s head, or blade, does not have the same upward curving J- or U-shape but, rather, the longer blade curves to the right or left of the stick. The direction of curvature depends on whether it is meant for a left- or right-handed shooter. If you shoot right, your blade will curve to the right and vice versa.

Your hold on an ice hockey stick also changes when you change hands. Your left hand is on top if you shoot right, and the blade is on the right side of your body. The opposite is true if you shoot left.

Generally, you want your dominant hand to be above the other. Still, all ice hockey players do not always apply this.

Unlike that of a field hockey stick, the design of an ice hockey stick allows a player to use both the back and front of the stick when stick handling, and it is not necessary to turn the stick as you play.

Despite ice hockey sticks being made for left- or right-hand shooters, some players switch hands in the middle of play to significant effect. This dynamic playing style is not possible in field hockey as the curvature of a field hockey stick’s right side does not allow it.

Theoretically, left-handed hockey sticks can be made, and they do exist. Still, they are challenging to find and illegal to play in official matches.

Regarding the design of a left-handed field hockey stick, everything would be in reverse. The flat, playing side would face to the right, the right hand would hold the stick on top of the left, and play would naturally happen from left to right.

The game rules prevent this from happening, which is why left-handed field hockey sticks aren’t allowed in official games or matches.

The Stick Rules of Field Hockey

As with any and all professionally organized games, a governing body has established a set of rules that needs to be adhered to.

Sometimes rules do differ from country to country, but, for field hockey, the FIH (Fédération Internationale de Hockey) governs internationally, and it is the Pan American Hockey Federation that presides over the Americas.

Favouring Right-Handed Sticks

When reading through the FIH rules and regulations for field hockey, it does not explicitly state that only right-handed sticks shall be used when playing the game. The description of the sticks that can legally be played with does make this apparent, though.

The field hockey stick’s specifications are clear that if the stick is held out in front of the player, the left-hand side is the playing side, and the right-hand side is the non-playing side.

The playing side is the only side that should be flat and smooth. The non-playing side must be rounded and smooth. Any flat section along the edges and non-playing side are not allowed, and you are only legally allowed to use one side of your stick.

The Legality of a Left-handed Stick

The FIH rules do not make reference to left-handed sticks not being allowed in a match. However, as described above, the specifications leave no room for doubt that a left-handed stick is not permitted.

The stick specifications do not provide alternatives concerning the playing- and non-playing side of the stick. It does not say that the left or right side of the stick is the playing side and must therefore be flat and smooth. If this were the case, a left-handed stick would be legal (source).

It is thus clear that left-handed sticks are not allowed at all. With many other sports making allowances for left-handed players, one has to wonder why that is.

Why Are Left-Handed Sticks Not Allowed?

As the majority of people in the world, and, therefore, field hockey players, are right-handed, the sport developed in a right-hand dominant society. The majority of right-handed stick users means that if a left-handed player with a left-handed stick is thrown into the mix, there is an increased risk of injury.

Injuries could happen when players meet each other head-on. If both players have right-handed sticks, the sticks will collide rather than their bodies. This would potentially not be the case if one player had a left-handed stick and the other a right.

Ball tackles could also be dangerous. A right-handed player’s follow-through shot could quite possibly hit someone playing with a left-handed stick as they make a tackle. These unnecessary risks of injury led to the use of left-handed sticks being banned completely (source).

Left-Handers Have to Adapt

Left Handed

Image by Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash

With the rules and regulations being what they are, left-handed players obviously have to adapt and use a right-handed stick. By no means does this have to be a disadvantage since you can turn it into a strength and improve your game.

Holding and Using a Right-handed Stick as a Left-hander

Most left-handed players would conform to holding the stick as a right-hander would. In other words, their left hand would be on top to maneuver the stick and their right on the bottom to control it. In this position, your right side is your strong side, and your left is the weak side.

Left-handed field hockey players that learn to play the game like this will probably not have much difficulty as they progress and become better players. If you started playing other sports, like ice hockey, with left-handed equipment, the challenges could be more serious, and it might be more challenging to adapt.

Tips and Tricks for Playing as a Left-hander

If you are transitioning from playing a different sport to playing field hockey, don’t let the idea of only having a right-handed stick at your disposal daunt you. It might seem like a difficult piece of sports equipment to get used to at first, but stay the course and give it a go.

Practice makes perfect, and field hockey is no exception to the rule. Work in as much practice on your stick and ball handling as possible to overcome any awkwardness caused by using a stick designed for right-handers.

When you can’t practice on the field, hold your stick in the left hand and practice dribbling an invisible ball. This will help you get used to your left hand having to maneuver the stick, rather than being the hand that controls it, as would be natural for left-handers.

Move the stick from right to left with the playing side facing left; turn the stick and move it back with the playing side now facing right. Repeat this movement as well as figure-eight movements to strengthen and improve your left hand as it maneuvers the stick.

Being Left-Handed Can Be an Advantage

Learning to play field hockey as a left-hander means learning to play on your naturally weaker side and strengthening it. Right-handers only learn to play on their strong side and have to go out of their way to focus on their weaker left side.

As a left-hander, you could naturally have a better ability to dribble the ball. It is also quite possible that you will find reverse stick skills more straightforward to learn and perfect.

Left-handed players can also opt to flounce the traditional hold on a stick, switch up their hands, and use it left-handed. This would cause the stick to be used upside down essentially and raises the same safety questions using a left-handed stick would.

However, the rules do not prohibit using the stick like this as long as the right side of the stick is used.

Playing left-handed creates unique advantages. When facing an opponent, it would mean that the two players’ strong sides are on the same side of the field, and the left-handed player can easily confuse the player and move around them when attacking. A similar thing happens when the left-handed player is defending.

For players that choose to do this, they can find it very difficult to play right-handed, and probably prefer not to do so. The ultimate advantage would be to improve your ambidextrous qualities to be able to play equally comfortably on both sides with either hand at the top of the handle.

Final Thoughts

Although left-handed hockey sticks can be manufactured, field hockey’s official rules do not allow for the use of a left-handed stick in a match.

This is understandable when you consider the possible injuries that could occur. Although this rule might seem like a hurdle to left-handed players at first, it can be transformed into an advantage and ultimately help you rise above the competition.