Sept. 26, 2006
Note: The following article appears in the "Lacrosse Classroom" section of the October/November issue of Lacrosse magazine, a member benefit of US Lacrosse. Lindsey Biles and the U.S. Elite team debut this weekend at Stars and Stripes in Alexandria, Va.
If there's a topic you'd like to see covered in the 'Classroom,' e-mail Matt DaSilva at firstname.lastname@example.org
When I coach camp, so many players have asked me, "Why is it so important to learn to play with your non-dominant hand when you can get away without it?" A little insight that I have learned: having a strong left hand if you are a natural right-handed player (or vice versa) adds a whole other dimension to your play that is nearly impossible to contain. If you want to reach the next level as a player and become the best that you can be, you simply have to learn to play with both hands, particularly as the game progresses.
Why? Glad you asked.
For attackers and midfielders, a strong non-dominant hand makes you much more of a threat on offense and in the midfield. Most defenders are taught to take away your dominant side, meaning they force you to cut or drive toward your left if you are a right-handed player and toward your right if you are a left-handed player. By doing this, they are assuming that you are not as strong with your non-dominant hand as you are with your dominant hand and that you will make a bobbled catch, make a bad pass, or take a shot that is easily saved. Most times if you aren't as comfortable with your non-dominant hand, this defensive technique works!
But if you are equally strong with both hands, you are that much harder to stop. You can cut to any open space instead of focusing all of your energy on how to get your strong side open. You can shoot and pass from anywhere and any position, and if a defender gives you a lane to goal with your weak hand, you can say, "Thank you, I'll take it." And consider the poor goalie who has to defend an attacker who can (and will) shoot with either hand -- the more versatile, the more unpredictable.
The importance of being a multidimensional player extends to the defense as well. Defenders need to be able to catch and throw with both hands. It gives you a lot more flexibility when cutting for the goalie and for fellow defenders. Also, pressured passes to cutting midfielders can be made with better precision.
As for technique in a settled defensive situation around the arc, being able to keep your stick in the attacker's strong-side lane may force her to her weak side.
So you can see why all positions would want to develop this skill! Having the versatility to play comfortably with both hands gives you a clear advantage.
Keys to Success
The keys to developing a strong non-dominant hand are practice and determination. For most, this is not a skill that is picked up right away without any work. It can be frustrating and awkward, but you have to keep at it because the rewards will come. And you have to start now. The younger you are, the easier it is to pick up, but it is never too late to learn.
10 Passes Right, 10 Passes Left
Every stick skill that you practice with your dominant hand, you should practice with your non-dominant hand as well. When I was younger, my mom would make me throw 10 passes with my right hand, and then 10 passes with my left hand. In practice, I would do a couple of ground balls with my right hand, and then a couple of ground balls with my left hand. The key is to force yourself to practice; the more you practice, the more comfortable you get.
Start by finding someone to pass with or a strong brick wall. It helps in the beginning to practice with a buddy so you can pass left-handed to someone receiving left-handed and vice versa. As you become more comfortable passing and receiving with your non-dominant hand, you need to mix up your passes, left to left, left to right and vice versa. If you have a partner, try to make good passes right to her stick head. If you are throwing against a wall, pick a spot and try to hit it every time. Make sure you focus on following the same mechanics with your non-dominant hand as you do with your dominant hand -- just reverse your hands and your body rotation.
Once you feel comfortable passing and catching in a stationary position, try catching and throwing on the run.
I have found that practicing power shots helps to develop strength and comfort more quickly. Once you have practiced, try taking a non-dominant shot in a game. If you don't feel completely comfortable yet, choose a game that isn't on the line -- after you do it once, you'll do it over and over.
Increasing Comfort and Skill with Stick Tricks
Once you begin to feel comfortable, practicing stick tricks with your non-dominant hand can help take your skills to the next level. Find a passing partner and try quick-sticks with your non-dominant hand. This entails catching and throwing the ball in one simultaneous motion without cradling in-between. The quicker you become the better.
After you've done this for a while, get your passing partner to throw you bad passes -- passes to the other side of your body, at the ground, up high -- and try to catch them with your non-dominant hand (this is a good way to increase hand-eye coordination with your dominant hand as well). Learn to be able to catch the ball anywhere around your body.
When you are comfortable doing these things, try doing everything one-handed, with just your non-dominant hand on the stick. Start off by tossing the ball up and down to yourself with one hand to increase wrist strength. Then throw and catch with a partner, all with one hand. Take it to the next level and try throwing and catching between your legs and behind your back with your non-dominant hand. Practicing little tricks like these will make you just as comfortable using your non-dominant hand in a pressure, real-time situation.
One last suggestion to increase comfort level: though I have never tried this, I have been told that brushing your teeth and eating with your non-dominant hand do wonders for stick-work and comfort. Try it out, you never know. The sooner you get started, the better you'll be.