Many youth players act like Ben Stiller’s character Derek Zoolander when they first start out because they absolutely cannot go left. They are afraid that they will drop the ball, miss a catch, or take a bad shot with their off-hand. This fear eventually turns into a phobia, and they do not even bother rolling left when it is the best option available to them. Once a player starts habitually going to their strong-hand over and over again, they become “the best one-handed player in the league.” However, the best one-handed player is almost always beaten by an average two-handed player.
The prevention of lefti-phobia is simple. When a player first starts lacrosse, every drill is repeated righty and lefty. The new player is concerned with learning how to do something, and if we start these players out learning how to cradle, pass, and shoot right-handed and left-handed, they will not develop the off-hand phobia.
The big problem is most youth lacrosse programs in developing areas struggle with teaching kids to go left and right. The prevailing mindset is, if the kid can go righty then he can go lefty when he gets older. This is true for some kids, but not for all. I still officiate high school games where the majority of the players will not roll to their off-hand. Go up to the northeast and watch a youth lacrosse game. Most of those young players are confident with the lacrosse stick in either hand. Rarely do you hear, “he’s all right!”
So how do we turn a kid from a single-handed player into an ambidextrous one? The answer is forsaking their strong-hand for a prolonged period of time.
When I hit the tenth grade my playing abilities plateaued. I was a strong, capable defenseman when I went righty. Yet, I could never throw a good lefty pass on the run. I was unwilling, but not unable to go lefty so I decided to purge myself of my lefty fear and work on my off-hand.
Because I was so unconfident with my left hand, I needed to use it exclusively until my ability and confidence level rose. For two months I practiced exclusively with my off-hand in wall ball drills. I picked my stick up with my left hand, I ran with my stick in my left hand. I even ate using my left hand. By the time those two months were over, I was better with my left hand than with my right!
This situation is analogous to medicine, where prevention is often much less painful than the treatment. Not being able to go to your off-hand in lacrosse is a disease. The cure is practicing with your weak-hand until it becomes as good or better than your strong-hand.
Lastly, we are entering the Fall Ball Season. While we do not have set practices, it is important for coaches to encourage or require their players to use their off-hands. If your team is winning by a wide margin, tell all your players to go left for the rest of the half. If both coaches agree, they can tell all their players go go left for the last six minutes of each half. That way every player gets experience going righty and lefty while on the field, and the game still remains an equal contest.
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