Types and Effects of Motor Adaptation a Left-handed Persons in Daily Life and in Contemporary Sport Training

Submitted by Wlodzimierz Starosta


In different countries there are between 5% to 50% of the left-handed people, most of whom live in Africa (Fig.1). It is estimated that there is about 240 million left-handed people around the world. So far the reasons for left-handiness have not been fully explained. There are various hypotheses that have not yet been confirmed. One of them propounds that left-handiness is innate and develops because of a dominant gene (Annett, 1981). Another hypothesis gives priority left-handedness to the  impact of the environment. There are many facts  that justify the third hypothesis according to which right-handiness steeped in and approved by tradition, preserved for hundreds of years and passed down from generation to generation, has eventually become an inborn ability (Handelsman, Smirnov, 1960; Krestownikov, 1951; Starosta 1963; 1977). It is even more plausible because, as some researchers claim (Ludwig, 1932), a human being in the course of many centuries of evolution has gone through different stages. At the very beginning he was left-handed, then ambidextrous and finally right-handed. This hypothesis can be strengthened by the fact that the relics of ambidextrous education can now be found in some societies for example in Japan.


Figure One
Fig.1. Left-handed subjects to total ratio population(%) of selected countries and according to several authors [Starosta 1995]


This hypothesis seems also to be supported by studies of numerous authors (Kreutz, et al., 1970; Passian, et al., 1969; Pocelujev, 1951; Storjohann, 1969; Suchenwirth, Gallenkamp, 1967; Szuman, 1957) which concerned the domination of the upper limb in the ontogenetic motor development of man. They show an increasing domination of the right hand in the grip of infants between thr 4th and the 11th month (Fig.2). The decreasing number of the left-handed and the both-handed with age amongst individuals of both sexes is shown also by extensive studies of many authors (Fig.3,4). The results of those studies seem to indicate a modifying role of the environment in the shaping of the dominating upper limb in man.


Figure Two
Fig.2. Right hand catch to total catch ratio (%) in new-born child in different months of life [Szuman 1957]


Figure Three
Fig.3. Ratio of right- and left-handed and ambidextrous childs in pre-school years [Pocelujev 1951]



Figure Four
Fig.4. Ratio of right- and left-handed and ambidextrous persons in different years of life n=2935 [Starosta 1995]


Living in the right-handed society, do the left-handed have to adapt to it? For centuries it was a necessity as left-handiness was considered to be a freak of nature and left-handed people were treated as inferior. This is why there are so many pejorative terms and expressions associated with left-handedness such as a lefty, a southpaw, a left-handed meaning clumsy and awkward or immoral, or the Polish expression “to get out of bed with the left leg first” meaning in English “to get out of bed on the wrong side” and another Polish expression that employs the term “left” – “to obtain something on the left” meaning in English “to obtain something on the crook.”

For centuries the left-handed have been ignored and very often even, persecuted by almost every human community. The right hand, as dominant and most important, was encouraged and maintained by religious cults. In the Middle Ages it was believed that the right hand was given by God and the left hand was given by Devil. This is why the left-handed people were persecuted by the Spanish Inquisition. There is a deep-rooted belief prevailing in the social consciousness up till now that left-handedness is a deviation from the norm, and the right-handedness is considered to be this norm. Over centuries left-handedness has been thought to be a defect, a disease and even a handicap. This is why, the whole environment of the left-handers, including parents, teachers and coaches, aimed at changing them in an attempt to develop a right hand ability in them.

Thus, under such pressure the left-handed tried to quickly adjust to the surrounding environment. This kind of adaptation carried out in the atmosphere of almost neurosis and without any didactic knowledge and experience led to numerous disorders in the whole body of a left-hander (Fig.5). These practises took place especially during the early childhood of the young people. The attempts at those more or less successful adaptations of the left handed resulted in different types of the left-handedness (Fig.6). The effects of these alterations have become a serious social problem. For example, in Germany, where there is about 8 million left-handers an Advice and Information Centre for the Left-handed and Altered Left-handers was established. Moreover a “Handbook for the Left-handed” was then published (Meyer, 1991). Due to the greater tolerance there is now a possibility of maintaining left-handedness.



Figure 5
Fig.5. The effects of transforming the left-handed into the right handed, i.e. the change of the dominant limb in everyday living [Starosta 1995]


Figure Six
Fig.6. The types of Left-Handedness in sport everyday life [Starosta 1995]


The question is how the issue of the left-handed is approached in sport? Similarly to other spheres of human life, tolerance has become in sport one of the greatest achievements. What does that mean in practice? Does that imply the possibility of taking part in training courses designed for right-handed people or its special mode for the left-handed? The left-handed person had usually adjust to the training prepared for the right-handed. Rarely did it happen that a certain element of training was provided exclusively for a left-handed person. If it happened it was the sportsman initiative and programme to do so. It is hard to determine the percentage of the left-handed who used this kind of self-improvement. In the studies of lateralisation carried out over many years I have not encountered any technique teaching programme or individualisation of training adequate for a left-handed person. Since the problem of the left-handed was non-existing in the theory of training, it was hard to expect a different situation in practice.

It was recognised neither in the theory of motor learning, nor in anthropokinetics (Szopa, 1992] nor in sport kinetics (Hirtz, et al., 1994). One of the anthropokinetics handbooks (Celikowski, et al., 1979) mentioned the problem but did not attempt at solving it. Only some publications (Fischer, 1988; Oberbeck, 1989; Osiński, 1993) approached the issue more seriously. The problem of individual sports training for the left-handed has not been solved although it affects a greater part of the population.

This is why the aim of the present paper is :

1. Presenting the types and effects of adaptation (transformation) found in those who practise different, according to the complexity, sports.

2. The search for more feasible ways of the left-handed training.

The types and effects of motor adaptation in sport.

As there was no appropriate research material available I was forced to analyse the individual cases of five distinguished sportsmen. I will be dealing with only successful cases of motor adaptation because only those were examined in the literature. The publications concerning a lateral differentiation in fitness most often cite an example of right-handed Takacs (Fig.7) – (Jokl, 1981). After losing his dominant hand he earned, in the World Championship and the Olympic Games, two gold medals for gun shooting with his left-hand. Taking into account the classification of sport disciplines according to their co-ordination complexity, the adaptation in question belongs to the first level, i.e. the easiest one (Farfel, 1960). The example of a more complex modification can be found in case of A.Grubba, top level competitor of the table tennis. It is worth noticing that this naturally left-handed player scored his greatest successes on the international arena while playing with the right hand. He was not forced to the change in the use of his dominant hand. It was rather a result of a coincidence he encountered in his childhood. The effects of this were then strengthened by his sports achievements in a discipline demanding the third and highest level of co-ordination.


Figure 7
Fig.7. The right-handed Takacs from Hungary win with the left hand in pistol shooting in the World Championship and the Olympic Games

Stadler and Bucher (1986) refer to another interesting case. They mention a left-handed M.Strupler who had played handball in a first League Swiss team for 15 years (Fig.8). Trying to adjust to his right-handed team colleagues he worked out and perfected the techniques of all game elements using both his hands. In this way he had an advantage over other players as an ambidextrous player is much more dangerous opponent to face. His left-handed throws were not always successful. The reason for that is he practised them less as his coach was not satisfied with this way of throwing. Very often the disagreement broke out between the player and his coach which ended in the coach saying”. If you make a left-handed throw to the net once more you will leave the field” (Fig.9).


Figure 8
Fig.8. The left-handed handball player M.Strupler remembered his coach telling him: “If you make a left-handed throw to the net once more, you will leave the field”


Figure 9
Fig.9. The left-handed handball player M.Strupler remembered his coach telling him: “If you make a left-handed throw to the net once more, you will leave the field”

The left-handed sportsmen are very often forced to change the dominant hand particularly in asymmetrical sports disciplines (Fig.10). For example, K. Date a left-handed tennis player from Japan who under the pressure of her family has to use the right hand during the play. Moreover, in Japan it is unacceptable, especially, for a woman to be left-handed. It has been noticed that Date takes the racket in the “forbidden” left hand in the most critical situation during a play. Despite the modification imposed on her by the closest environment she has succeeding in becoming one of the leading tennis players in the world (6th place in ATP ranking 1996).


Figure Ten
Fig.10. Classification of variants movement symmetry and asymmetry in different sport disciplines [Starosta 1990]

All human movements are adapted to the dominant hand. A higher efficiency level of one upper limb is shifted to the lower limb and limits the direction of turns in sports exercises. The right-handed perform this type of exercise into the left and consider their right leg as dominant (Starosta, 1975; 1990). Only particularly talented people may achieve success in such complex movements involving the whole body. For example, left-handed C. College won the European ice figure skating Championship. However, her further achievements were hindered by her inability to perform jumps with many turns, a complex task in terms of co-ordination. According to her new coach the difficulties stemmed from the fact that she made turns in jumps in the wrong direction. Although she had already held European Championship she had to learn jumps with turns into the right direction. This skaters modified her technical skills twice: in the early stage of her career when she learnt to perform jumps in a way typical of the right handed (turns to the left) and then adapted herself to make the jumps characteristic for the left-handed (turns to the right). In both cases the adaptation was successful. I provided the examples of those sportsmen who were successful in the change of their dominant hand (or the direction) due to different conditions, however, not all individuals show equally positive modifications. Many left-handed people, unable to adjust to the demands of the imposed training system (mainly technical-tactical preparation) intended for the right-handed, give up practising the discipline liked by them or definitely decided against exposing their left-handiness. This problem affects almost all sports disciplines. Nevertheless, it becomes more evident in these disciplines that are concerned with a lateral differentiation in the fitness of the particular parts of the body (limbs) or of the whole body.

Moreover, many publications clearly focus their attention to preoccupied with the problems of the right-handed by helping and suggesting how to defeat the left-handed (Ogurenkow, 1989). I have not come across any such publication that would give similar advice to the left-handed. Thus, it may be considered paradoxical for the members of this social minority to try to win the highest sports awards in various disciplines, for example in boxing and fencing (Fig.11), tennis (Fig.12) and table tennis (Fig.13). Taking into account the opinions of 16 specialists in table tennis I drew up a psychomotor evaluation sheet for a left-handed sportsman who (Fig.14) possess those specific abilities that are respected/and appreciated by
the right-handed. This gives rise to a situation which is conducive to the achievement of sports success by left-handed tennis players.


Figure Eleven
Fig.11. Left-handed sportsmen and his achievements in boxing and fencing [Starosta 1991]


Figure Twelve
Fig.12. Number of left-handed tennis players among 10 best competitors (according ATP ranking) in different years [Starosta 1991]


Figure Thirteen
Fig.13. Number of left-handed table tennis players among 10 world best women and men competitors (according ITTF ranking) in different years n=25 [Starosta, Perek 1991]


Figure 14
Fig.14. Technical-tactical and psychological characteristics of the left-handed table tennis players in the opinion of the table tennis specialists [Starosta 1995]


The search for more feasible ways of a training for the left-handed.

In view of the facts presented above the important question is: it is possible to consider and include, in the training programme, the aspects of psychomotor differences found in the left-handed people. Definitely “yes”. The problem is still present because the training as intended for the right-handed is not highly effective for the left-handers. The solution to the problem may be fostered by the introduction of a new concept aiming at teaching and improvement sports techniques (Starosta, 1990). The concept assumes movements symmetrization, namely equal efficiency of both sides of the body while maintaining a dominant side of the individual regardless of the sport discipline requirements (symmetrical or asymmetrical). This is a new approach in the movement training theory which offers equal opportunity for both left and right-handed without regard to the range of their technical skills (Fig.15). In addition, greater effectiveness of teaching is ensured due to the wider use of bilateral transfer, namely a more intensive activation of the other hemisphere.

The use of the proposed concept depends on the mode chosen by the trainer. He may employ the mode with a short-term and fragmented symmetrization (see Fig.15 – B). Out of 8 variants presented in the concept, a teacher may choose the one that is the most appropriate for a given sportsman (individualisation). In this way the problem of differences in the teaching of the left-handed can be solved within a training group without additional expense of time and money. The symmetrization of many exercises is not so easy simple especially in case of advanced sportsmen. Each of them possesses a different range of technical skills which should be a starting point for taking up an individualised process of symmetrization. The symmetrization of complex co-ordination movements is particularly difficult and thus it should be taught by those who know and comply with didactic principles as well as are tactful especially in dealing with the left- handed. Only then will the symmetrization of the technique be for a coach and a sportsman an interesting process of improvement a sports techniques and developing a movement co-ordination.

Figure 15
Fig.15. Variants of motor preparation and recommended pedagogical schemes [Starosta 1975]


1. Left-handed individuals in various countries of the world constitute from 5 to 50% of the whole population. As they usually live in a population of right-handed people, they must become adapted to them. The effects of such an adaptation depend on individual predisposition’s of an individual and on the relation of the others towards left-handed people.

2. Depending on the progress of the adaptation process, its consequences may be different. One of the frequently ascertained types of such adaptation was assimilation of the left-handed with the surrounding population, i.e. changing to right-handedness. As such changes were usually carried out in an atmosphere of psychological pressure and without the necessary knowledge of didactic principles, they caused numerous disturbances in the functioning of the whole organism of a left-handed individual. The consequences of such changing became a significant social problem.

3. Modern civilisation prefers right-handed individuals. Left-handed ones demand a modification of that in such a way which would take into consideration their functional distinct feature and manifestation of more considerable tolerance.

4. The current system of sports training had been prepared for right-handed individuals. This system lacks a suitable programme of teaching or individualisation of training for the left-handed. Therefore, the left-handed must adapt to this system, as they have no other choice.

5. The adaptation of the left-handed to this system of sports training has different types. It happens sometimes that left-handed individuals have the most spectacular sports successes on an international arena while using the right hand (e.g. A.Grubba in table tennis or K.Date in tennis), or thanks to being both-handed (e.g. M.Strupler in handball).

6. The analysis of the progress in sports careers of the best competitors indicated significant difficulties of the left-handed in adapting to schema of training for the right-handed, and simultaneously showed incredible adaptational possibilities of human organism. It also pointed to the existence of unsolved problem of distinct feature of sports training for the left-handed, which, after all, concerns a significant part of the population of the majority of countries in the world.

7. In solving a fragment of this complex problem some help may be attained from the original concept of teaching and improving of the sports technique based on the symmetrization of movements (equalising the fitness of both sides of the body), which enables the maintaining of a dominating side. This is a new solution in the theory of teaching of movements, which establishes equal opportunities to individuals which are left-handed and right-handed, independently of the possessed technical knowledge. It ensures an increased efficiency in teaching thanks to a fuller utilisation of the bilateral transfer.


  1. Annett, M. (1981). The genetics of handiness. In: Trends in Neurosciences, 3, 256-258.
  2. Celikovsky, S. et al., (1979). Antropomotorika. [Anthropomotoric.]. Praha: Statni pedagogicke nakladatelstvi.
  3. Farfel, V.S. (1960). Fizjołogija sporta. [Physiology of Sport.]. Moskva: Fizkul’tura i Sport.
  4. Fischer, K. (1988). Rechts-Links-Probleme in Sport und Training[Problem of right and left in sport and training.].Schorndorf: Verlag Karl Hofmann.
  5. Handelsman, A., & Smirnov, K. (1966). Fizićeskoje vospitanije dietiej śkolnogo vozrasta (mediko-biologićeskije osnovy). [Physical Education childs in school age – medical and biological basic.]. Moskva: Fizkul’tura i Sport.
  6. Hirtz, P., Kirchner, G., & Pöhlmann, R. (1994). Sportmotorik – Grundlagen, Anwendungen und Grenzgebiete. Psychomotorik in Forschung und Praxis. Band 22, Kassel.: Universitat Gesamthochschule.
  7. Jokl, E. (1981). Zu den neurologischen Grundlagen des Handelns. In: Lenk H. (Hrsg.) Handlungstheorien-interdisziplinär, Band.3:57-77.
  8. Krestownikov, N. (1951). Oćerki po fizjołogii fizićeskich uprażnenij. [Sketch physiology of physical exercises]. Moskva: Fizkul’tura i Sport.
  9. Ludwig, W. (1932). Das Rechts-Links-Problem in Tierreich und beim Menschen. Berlin: Vrlg. J.Springer.
  10. Meyer, R.W. (1991). Berater für Linkshandiger. München: Taschenbuchverlag Jacobi KG.
  11. Oberbeck, H. (1989). Seitigkeitsphänomene und Seitigkeitstypologie im Sport. Schorndorf: Verlag Karl Hofmann.
  12. Ogurenkov, V. (1959). Levśa v boksie. [Left-handers in boxing]. Moskva: Fizkul’tura i Sport.
  13. Osiński, W. (Ed.) (1994). Motoryczność człowieka – jej struktura, zmienność i uwarunkowania. [Human kinetics – its structure, changes and conditions]. Monografie, Podręczniki, Skrypty AWF w Poznaniu, 310, 121-146.
  14. Parson, B.S. (1924). Left-handedness. New York.
  15. Passian, J.; Suchenwirth, R.& Ferneru (1969). Die Lateralisation der manuellen Leistung in Abhängigkeit vom Lebensalter. In: Fortschritte
    der Neurologie und Psychiatrie,
    37, 319-331.
  16. Pocelujev, A. (1951). Voprosy rozvitja levoj ruki u śkolnikov-sportsmenov[Human kinetics – its structure, changes and conditions]. Leningrad:
  17. Robakowski, A. (1957). Znaczenie leworęczności w szermierce w świetle statystyki. [Significance of left-handness in fencing in light of statistc]. Warszawa: Praca magisterska, AWF.
  18. Stadler, R., & Bucher, W. (Ed.) (1986). Erfolg mit beiden Seiten. Die Tennistechnik mit Zukunft. Dübendorf/Unterägeri.
  19. Starosta, W. (1975). Symetria i asymetria ruchu w sporcie[Symmetry and asymmetry of movement in sport]. Warszawa: Sport i Turystyka.
  20. Starosta, W. (1990). Symetria i asymetria w szkoleniu sportowym. Warszawa: Poradnik dla Trenera, z.15, Instytut Sportu.
  21. Starosta, W. (1993). Problemy stronnego zróżnicowania ruchów człowieka. [Problems of lateral movements differentiation in human]. Oddział Gorzów: Polskie Towarzystwo Naukowe Kultury Fizycznej.
  22. Stevens, H.C. (1909). Review of Gold’s „Right -handedness and Left-handedness”. Science, 30, 182-184.
  23. Storjohann, K. (1969). Der Zeitpunkt der Lateralisation. Diss. Med. Erlangen.
  24. Suchenwirth, R. & Gallenkamp, U. (1967). Die Lateralisation der manuellen Leistung (Rechts- und Linkshändigkeit) in Abhängigkeit vom Lebensalter. In: Fortschritte der Neurologie und Psychiatrie. 35, 373-381.
  25. Szopa, J. (1992). Zarys Antropomotoryki. [Sketch of anthrophomotorics]. Kraków, Wydawnictwo Skryptowe (117), AWF.
  26. Szuman, S. (1957). Rozwój motoryki niemowlęcia. [Development of new-born motoric]. Kultura Fizyczna, 11.

-Download Types and Effects of Motor Adaptation a Left-handed Persons in Daily Life and in Contemporary Sport Training as PDF-