Why being a lefty is all right when it comes to sport
MATHS WEEK:BEING LEFT-HANDED in a world of right-handers has its annoyances, like right-handed scissors and tin openers. But when it comes to sport, being a citeog offers a slight advantage.
Prof John Barrow of Cambridge University outlined some of the benefits of being a southpaw during a talk at the RDS yesterday entitled “Maths and Sport”. It is one of more than 100 events taking place this week during Maths Week.
“You can see that in combat sports like fencing or judo if you are right-handed you have no special advantage,” he said.
Only one in 10 people is a left-hander so most of the time right-handers play right-handers, leaving them less familiar with the challenges posed by a left-hander.
Yet left-handers mostly face right-handers, so they are well used to coping with the challenges associated with cross handedness.
The advantage can also be seen in tennis, said Prof Barrow who is Cambridge’s research professor of mathematical science and director of the Millennium Mathematics Project. “The left-handed player has a significant advantage.”
Although play begins on the right-handed service court, the left-hander will have more opportunity to serve to the right-hander’s forehand at certain key point combinations.
Prof Barrow explained why the “scissors-kick” style of high jumping wasn’t nearly as efficient as the arched back method pioneered by Dick Fosbury, a technique that won him gold in the 1968 Olympics.
“You are sending your centre of gravity under the bar even though you go over the bar,” Prof Barrow said. This required less energy to achieve the same jump height as the scissors where the centre of gravity had to be above the bar.
He also talked about why tightrope walkers often carried long poles as they crossed the wire. Here the key issue was not centre of gravity, which might be an initial assumption. Rather it had to do with making use of inertia, the tendency of a body at rest to remain at rest.
The pole moves weight away from the walker, thus increasing inertia. Sometimes this is increased still further by adding weights to the ends of the pole.
This serves to slow down the “wobble” as the walker shifts weight to left or right in order to remain centred over the wire, he said.
See mathsweek.iefor a list of the events taking place across Ireland during Maths Week.