Updated: Feb 1
I gravitated to hockey at a young age. My parents signed me up when I was 6 years old, and despite many 6:00am hockey practices, it quickly became one of my favorite sports. I learned over the years that being able to have strong stick handling skills, make accurate passes, and have a hard shot are a few crucial skills hockey players should have if they want to play at a high level. A player starts to develop these necessary skills the moment they pick up a hockey stick, which is why determining which side they shoot from at a young age is so important.
I have always been a strong left hander, which means I perform all tasks with my left hand. However, when I was 5-6 years old and was playing different sports, my parents did not assume I would use a left handed hockey stick just because I did other things with my left hand. There are people who are mixed handed, meaning they do certain tasks with their left hand, and others with their right.
National Hockey League star Alex Ovechkin is a perfect example of using both hands; he throws left handed but writes with his right hand.
How To Hold A Hockey Stick
Holding a hockey stick requires the player to have two points of contact on the stick when passing or shooting. Both hands have different functions; the top hand provides range, control, reach, and some non-obvious power, while the bottom hand provides stability and power when shooting. Although most of the power in a hockey shot comes from the legs and weight transfer from the back to front skate.
Have your child hold a hockey stick and observe which hand they put on top (closest to the top end) and in the middle (on the shaft) of the stick. See which hand placement looks the most comfortable for them. Then have your child pass and shoot at a target; this could be a net, a wall, or even them passing the ball with you. Be aware of the type of contact they make with the ball and stick, and the power behind their shot. Is there consistent contact being made? Or are they waving at the ball and making a lot of inconsistent contact? Also, when they hit the ball, is it with any kind of force? Then have them try to shoot from the other side and compare the results.
How To Determine If A Child Should Play Hockey Left Handed Or Right Handed
Once you’ve observed your child’s preference in the previous exercises, you will have a much better idea of which side they prefer. If they naturally place their left hand lower on the stick, they will likely prefer a left-handed hockey stick. However, if they place their left hand at the top, you will likely be buying them a right-handed hockey stick.
As a parent, you want to see your child succeed, which in turn helps them enjoy their activities. If you have an idea of your child’s handedness but are unsure which hand your child prefers when playing sports, don’t force them to play with a left handed or a right handed stick. You may be tempted to decide which side they should shoot from; however, your child will experiment with what feels the most natural and comfortable for them.
Your child may also model their preference based on what they observe with their friends, family or professionals in that sport. “This is what we call non-explicit model learning,” says Dr. Marietta Papadatou-Pastou, an expert in handedness from the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. “It's not like someone explicitly told you to use your right hand, but you see someone who’s a role model for you, they're modeling this activity and you say this is how it should be done.”
Why Most Hockey Players Shoot Left Handed
Many right-handed people shoot left in hockey and if your child decides to shoot from either side at a young age, they will most likely develop a nice shot no matter which is their dominant hand. However, it’s important young players feel comfortable shooting from that side. If your child is a strong left hander in most things they do, they will probably shoot left in hockey since their left hand would be their “power hand” near the middle of the shaft. This hand is important in providing the force necessary to make a firm pass across the ice or a hard slap shot on goal. That being said, there are experts who say the dominant hand should be placed at the top of the stick to aid in strong one-handed poke checks and stick handling skills. Players often find themselves playing the puck with only one hand on the stick while using the other hand to keep opponents from taking the puck away.
Dr. Alain Haché is a professor at Université de Moncton in Canada. He is the author of Slap Shot Science: A Curious Fan's Guide to Hockey, which looks at the science of hockey. Dr. Haché explains why many players choose to place their dominant hand at the top of the hockey stick, “So, the right hand being the dominant one, they would like to hold the (top of the hockey stick) with their right hand. You don't have to, but that's the general preference and the reason is you want that dominant hand to be the one reaching out with one hand like some defensemen do; they'll poke or try to get the puck from the opponent with using one hand and that would be preferable to do with your dominant hand; you just reach farther. Another reason is on certain shots, for example a wrist shot, you have like a flick of the wrist motion typically that is done with the dominant hand at the (top) of the stick. Now that's more of a technical point, but for those two reasons you end up with the majority of right-handed people shooting on the left.”
Dr. Haché says there are also advantages in having your dominant hand lower on the shaft of the stick, with your non-dominant hand at the top, “Yes in the sense that your dominant hand is stronger and then you can push harder. There are different advantages in both having the dominant hand in the middle or at the end of the stick. If you train early enough, I would say you would get people to be just as efficient in both ways. If you look at the numbers, two-thirds (of players in the National Hockey League) shoot left and those are mostly right-handed people. So, you know there's a clear preference for doing that, but I don't want to say this is the absolutely best technique. Like any approach to sport, any technique there is good and bad.”
Is there an advantage of shooting left-handed in hockey?
Most hockey players shoot left-handed, which is amazing considering close to 90% of the world is right-handed.
Yet, there is no conclusive evidence of an advantage when shooting left handed versus right in hockey. It really comes down to what feels most natural and comfortable for the player when stick handling, passing, and shooting the puck. Your child will decide whether they prefer left or right.