Give Me a Break, Lefty

by | February 5, 2015, 10:39am 0

My friend Roxy is a lefty, but she doesn’t know it. It’s not that she throws with her right hand when she should with her left. I mean she’s a lefty and she throws with her left, but she doesn’t know that as a lefty, she’s got certain advantages on the field that others don’t. It’s not her fault; no one has taught her to embrace her gift. The way I see it, if she doesn’t know, maybe there are other lefties out there in the same boat.

I first noticed that lefties were peculiar when I was seven. This kid Jimmy (a lefty) played on my tee-ball team. At lunch, he would always take his food apart. Whether it was a PB and J or a piece of pizza, he would separate it into a few piles and eat each separately.

Jimmy played first base and this one time a kid from the other team bunted. (I know, right? He bunted. In tee-ball. Who does that?)

I was pitching that game and when the ball dribbled off the tee, I was pumped. I ran off the mound and grabbed it, then gave it my all. It had a little extra mustard sauce on it, due to my excitement, and Jimmy had to shuffle off the bag a few feet to make the catch. Then, in one motion, he jumped back to tag the base and out of the way of the runner while, simultaneously throwing to second for a double play.

(A little tee-ball side note: the pitcher is the kid that is the least athletic and tends to screw up more often than not. His only real job, apart from snagging a line drive, is to collect and throw a bunt to first. As a seven year old egomaniac, I felt like I was in the action and making a contribution. But I wasn’t… until that bunt.)

Hindsight tells me that in that situation, I should have thrown the bunt to second base instead of first. But then I wouldn’t have had my little moment about lefties.

It wasn’t that Jimmy looked strange when throwing. He did, but it’s more than that. He was strange. You could classify him however you want to: peculiar, absurd, or just plain old weird. But the mechanics of how Jimmy moved back, jumped and threw looked like nothing I had ever seen. Was it because it looked backwards to me, or was there something else going on?

I started playing golf in my late twenties. One day while watching Bubba Waston’s swing on TV in a bar, I began nursing this long standing lefties are strange theory of mine, along with a half dozen pina coladas. I rambled to a fellow patron sitting next to me about my tee-ball experience and other notable lefties I had come across “in all my years.”

He leaned over to me real close and in a raspy voice said, “it’s just the mirror image that is throwing you off kid.”

Reminded how much I detested the smell of scotch, I hovered over my delicious drink and inhaled deeply through my nose. I suddenly remembered two things. The first was from the second grade: I had this image in my head of Jimmy eating two soggy pieces of bread then a spoonful of peanut butter and a spoonful of jelly for lunch. This memory was of little or no use, but amusing nonetheless. The second, more relevant memory, was that the mirror in my bathroom could be detached from the wall.

The next day, I set up the mirror on our couch so I could see the TV in it. Rickie Fowler, a right-handed golfer, came on first, and his swing looked crazy as hell from my new vantage point. “That poor boob at the bar,” I thought to myself. I had drunkenly yelled at him for an hour about a theory that seemed, at that point, to be flawed.

I fully expected a lefty to look normal in the mirror. Bubba came on the screen and at set up he looked pretty good, a little upright and tall in my personal opinion but not half bad for a Master’s champion. He took the club back and BLAM, he ripped his drive. His swing was completely ridiculous– he was in the air at impact! I’m talking feet off the ground. Suddenly my theory seemed plausible again.

What the hell am I getting at? I’m getting at the fact that lefties do things differently. They live in a right hand dominant world. They look at everything in reverse their whole lives. Whether pitching a baseball, swinging a golf club or throwing a disc. They have to figure things out for themselves.

In every sport, ultimate included, lefties have a couple huge advantages over right handed players.

The first is systemic. At most levels, the right-handed forehand (flick) mark is used as the force 95% of the time. This means lefties are being forced backhand 95% of the time. (This alone is reason enough to start eating my Coco Puffs with my left hand… or at least try to, anyway.)

I love being forced backhand. I can step across and hangout in that comfy stance and, most of the time, I am given a free break throw. The rest of the time, a little shimmy toward the flick side will yield enough space to step way out and throw a backhand huck. This is good for left handed throwers, but it’s not even the good part. Lefties get another, even bigger, advantage and they deserve it. Call it compensation for years of scissor oppression.

The second, more complex advantage for lefties is one I first noticed in 2012. I attended a clinic in British Columbia run by a legendary lefty Jeff Cruickshank. The subject was throwing moves and countermoves. Throughout the day, Jeff moved his marks around with ease, but I noticed that it wasn’t only his skill. (Don’t get me wrong the guy’s a sick thrower.) Whenever he was throwing, the mark seemed to take a moment to adjust to his left-handedness. And in that moment Jeff would exploit that split second of confusion.

It boils down to the mechanics of the backhand mark and the fact that it’s not the opposite of a forehand mark. A backhand mark is farther away, has a different mindset and different hand positions. Most studied players can explain or demonstrate these differences. Some can even implement them in the game against right-handed players. But against lefties, forget it. Almost everyone screws up a lefty force.

If you’ll permit me, I’d like to examine the forehand and backhand marks on a right-handed thrower. Just so we are all on the same page.

The Forehand Mark

The forehand mark is close to the thrower, almost encroaching into his or her disk space. (Not too much though, just enough to have non-youthful or prude-like players shove the disk into your chest and whine in a pinched and nasal voice “Disc SPA-ce!” They put that little extra emphasis on the SPA in space to let you know they mean it. As if shoving a piece of plastic into your sternum doesn’t say enough.)

Start with your left foot centered in the thrower’s stance. Your left hand is low to prevent the inside break and your right hand is high, ready for a hammer or scoober. The setup is pretty flat, meaning not wrapped around to the side; your back is toward the center of the field. Meaning your flat angle will change according to what side of the field you are on.

In a nutshell, the forehand mark is close, flat and twitchy. You should be like a crazy dog on drugs. Not random and nuts like a Jack Russell Terrier on crack, more like a law enforcement trained German Shepherd on amphetamine. Your eyes are narrowed and focused, ready to attack before the perp pulls out a gun, or a disc in this instance.

The Backhand Mark

The backhand mark is the exact opposite. (I know I said before that it wasn’t the opposite; I lied.) Think of it this way, if a forehand mark is close, flat and twitchy, the backhand mark is distant, always around and calm (much like my girlfriend).

A good backhand mark, when compared to it’s counterpart, is further away from the thrower, to prevent a reach around (the bad kind). At setup the mark is wrapped to the side to cover a quick fired flick break. And, lastly, the mark’s mental status should be calm, so you don’t bite on every little open-side fake.

About an arms length from the thrower, your body angle should be wrapped around to the side, about 45 degrees off of flat. Remember flat I define as your back to the center of the field. The reason for the wrap around is that a forehand throw can be released super fast compared to a backhand. If you do not wrap around to the side you are going to get broken to the outside, a lot. And before you know it, you’re sitting on the bench waiting till the score justifies your return to the game.

When marking backhand, your mental state has to be calm, not lethargic thats bad, calm is what we are looking for. You don’t move until the thrower does, but when they do you move like lightning. You have to be a zen master who’s not easily rattled. You must laugh in the face of half hearted attempts. Don’t cry and shout “Yes yes, oh yes, I will marry you!” only to find out he is kneeling to tie his shoe. You freak out when you see that big-ass diamond ring, not one second earlier, not one second later. If the thrower steps around, starts winding up, and commits to a backhand, that’s when you get your ass is gear and cover the throw. This is a key part of the backhand mark commonly under-taught.

What was I saying? Oh yes, I was making a lot of hoopla about lefties having an advantage. Take the difference between a forehand and backhand mark and try to flip it into marking a lefty while in a game.

Look at it this way: it is habitually ingrained into our heads to force forehand on right handed players. When the pull goes up we burn this into our heads. Not like it’s a mantra we say while running down the field…well actually, it sort of is. One could say to himself, “Home, the force is home, that’s a flick, don’t forget, the force is flick. You just got off the bench now prove your worth little guy.”

After this, fictitious person finishes their little self pep-talk on the way down the field noticing the thrower they’re marking is holding the disc in the wrong hand. I…I mean they… try to adjust and be calm. They might even move to the side a bit more but everything seems so…lefty. The pivots are strange, the fakes are backwards and the release points cause a system fault in their brain.

This is when a lefty who knows he or she is a lefty will school his ass. They will only look to the break side of the field, because they know they can throw anywhere they damn well please.

Sometimes average marks figure it out over the course of the game and stop the outside flick break, but often overcompensate and give up an easy backhand break. Why? Because people just don’t practice with left-handed throwers enough or at all.

Now, some of you might be thinking I’m nuts and think this isn’t really an issue. Well, I agree, it’s not an issue. But why? Why is this not really an issue? Because most left-handed throwers have no freakin clue they have an advantage.

So many articles are about proper form and trying to do things the right way. That’s not the point of this one. Maybe some of you right handed players will read how I describe marking and think “I should work on that.” But most of you won’t and those that do will not put more than ten minutes into actually getting better at it. It’s not your fault, humans are lazy. On second thought, it is your fault, but I don’t really care.

My point in the end? Give me a break Roxy! Literally, your first look should be to the break side of the field. Especially if your mark is crowding your disc space, and acting more like a deranged Jack Russell on crack than a steel eyed Buddhist monk. Throw to the break side all the time. (Just not a lefty hammer. I suspect I’m not alone here when I say those are super hard to read.)

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