The Giants star, a natural right-hander, is doing everything with his non-dominant hand to improve on the field.
Athletes like to say they are trying to improve all the time. It is mostly lip service, as all they’re really doing is tweaking their foot placement or slightly modifying their arm delivery. They are not rearranging their daily lives to make these adjustments.
But the New York Giants star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is carrying out an unusual tactic when he’s not on the field, one that few athletes have even considered. He’s living his life as a secret lefty.
Beckham’s right hand is perhaps the most impressive in sports these days. The outstretched one-pawed catch he made with it against the Dallas Cowboys last season is widely considered one of the most athletic plays in NFL history. Since then, Beckham reached 150 receptions faster than any player in NFL history. Virtually any record that involves receiving performances to start a career belongs to Beckham. His one-handed catches, predominantly made with his right hand, have quickly shot him to superstardom at age 23.
Like 90% of humans, he’s right handed. And although he’s shown talent with both hands, he decided that wasn’t enough. So he changed his habits, and he started with the most mundane of tasks.
“Brushing my teeth with my left hand—this is going to help me,” Beckham said. “Why won’t this help me be more coordinated? You have to have [another hand] so you might as well use it.”
Beckham has always dabbled with doing some things lefty, beginning when he noticed his hand-writing with his left hand was surprisingly good. His left-handed football tosses in warmups, dating back to high school are impressive and a testament to his other-worldly athleticism, but almost everything else in the athletic arena had been done with his right hand. His plan was simple: “My left didn’t feel the same as my right so I’m trying to become ambidextrous,” he said. “It’s something I’ve been trying recently, to get my left hand intact with the rest of my body. This was finding a way to be better.”
To do this, he started doing as many things as he possibly could left handed. Every day. “Anything I can do with my right hand, I’ve gotta do with my left,” he said. There’s the teeth-brushing—three times a day. There’s the swinging of a baseball bat (He hasn’t been to a batting cage in years, but he practices swinging a bat around his place). He doesn’t play full-scale basketball games anymore, but he has a hoop at his house. He invites friends over to shoot around, all in the name of his lefty experiment. He takes every shot left handed. “My left-handed shot now looks better than my right,” he said (He did admit his left-handed shot is less accurate but that’s beside the point.)
He also decided to start kicking balls with his left foot, just to help the balance of the body in hopes it will help his left hand. In short, he has shifted everything from the right side of his body to the left.
Most receivers pay some attention to their non-dominant hand but tend to rely on the idea that catching comes naturally. Giants tight end Larry Donnell said he does some grip exercises for his non-dominant hand but doesn’t go out of his way to develop it.
Beckham’s strategy is, everyone generally agrees, completely out of the ordinary. Research shows Beckham is probably on to something. Jordan Metzl, a sports medicine physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery, said Beckham’s idea to use his left hand for things like teeth brushing helps his “neuromuscular activation patterns,” which is the connection between the brain and the muscles and nerves. It is not about the strength of the non-dominant hand, exactly, but about “recruiting different muscle groups” with repetitive activities, Metzl said.
Researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia conducted a study for a paper published in 1999 where they made 10 people use their non-dominant hand more often each day for 10 weeks—and all eventually showed marked improvement in handwriting and other tasks in their non-dominant hand.
Having two well-developed hands is important, since on many plays, receivers have to use their non-dominant hand more because of the angle of a pass. Beyond that, receivers have to fight off defensive backs who are trying to jam them at the line, making hand placement and movement vital. Beckham may also be trying to win favor with Giants coach Tom Coughlin, who has been gently mocking Beckham’s propensity for one-handed catches this year. “Two hands, please,” Coughlin said during training camp. “Two hands on the ball, thank you very much. Ball security as well.”
Beckham said it’s undeniably working. His life as a left-hander is still young, but he said that already he has increased feel in both of his hands and more awareness around the ball. He can put the ball in his left hand while running and feel comfortable.
“The football is not a foreign object in this hand now,” Beckham said. “You adapt the hand so you know the football is supposed to be in that hand, too. You can just feel it better.”
Kevin Clark | wsj.com | November 11, 2015