27 Nov 2017

Left-handed table tennis athletes show up disproportionally at the elite level, and the answer may be down to speed.

by Wade Townsend

Florian Loffing from the Institute of Sport Science, University of Oldenburg has found that left-handed people may have an advantage in sports with significant time pressures.

Approximately 10% of the population are left-handed. But Loffing noticed that lefties are showing up disproportionally more often in sports requiring fast reaction times, such as baseball, cricket and table tennis. Loffing’s paper, published in the journal Biology Letters, analysed data from a variety of sports, and concluded that a good general rule is that the faster the sport, the less the disparity between right and left-handedness.

So how much of an advantage?

In Women’s table tennis it is significantly higher than the general population at around 19%, never deviating more than plus or minus one percent from the Top 200 athletes all the way up to the Top 10. Compare that to sports with more time like tennis and badminton, and the left-handed athlete makes up 8% of the leading players.

In the Men’s game the gap is even greater.

The Top 200 men are 24% left-handed. The Top 50 are 30% left-handed. The Top 10 are 45% left-handed. The more elite you get in the men’s game, the greater the advantage of being left-handed.

Is it angles? Is it genetic? Is it all in their brain? The exact reason for the correlation is yet to be determined.

But if you want to succeed in table tennis, then being left-handed is a step in the right direction.

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