A fellow colleague and I were discussing twisting and he brought up a very thought provoking way of looking at twist direction.
After retiring from gymnastics, my colleague decided to take up bull riding. In bull riding, participants are strapped onto a bull by one arm while the other is used to maintain balance. On the first attempt, he was asked which hand was his dominate (right) and which was his non-dominate (left). Coincidentally, he was instructed to strap his left arm down to the bull, and use his right arm to balance. To put it simply, his non-dominate arm was used as a ‘stabilizer’, while his dominate arm was used as an ‘active’, or ‘working’ mechanism to maintain balance. This arm arrangement caused my colleague to question many things about sport and its implications, one of these questions became – How and why we choose a particular direction of twist for gymnastics?
I think the majority of us would concede most of the world’s population are right handed while left handed people are a minority (I am one of them). ‘In 1998, a study suggested that approximately 7 to 10 percent of the adult population was left-handed’ (Hardyck, C., & Petrinovich, L. F. (1977). “Left-handedness”, Psychological Bulletin, 84, 385–404.)
There are many examples of sport adapting to right handed people. In almost all racing sports, tracks go counter-clockwise (in the USA). This may not be a coincidence, rather I think racing has developed this direction due to the fact that when you turn a steering wheel left, you work to push the wheel left with your right arm, or you push the right bike handle forward to turn left – the majority of the population find it comfortable to use their right arm as an ‘active’, or ‘working’, mechanism to accomplish left turns. It seems interesting that the only sport in the USA that goes clockwise around a track is dog racing, a non-human driven sport!
In gymnastics, some nations have adopted a methodological way to respect the right-handed majority. For many coaches and nations, (the former Soviet Union and China) the choice was/is often standard in which direction to introduce twisting – it is deemed left for all individuals, regardless of haptic/optic testing, left is standard. What a profoundly logical stance given the odds of dictating the correct direction could be close to 90 percent correct!
Trusting the maxim that the non-dominate arm is used to ‘stabilize’ and the dominate arm is ‘active’, or ‘working’, it can be perhaps argued in favour of this methodology. Coaches have considered that the majority of gymnasts will be right handed therefore their left arm would be the ‘stabilizer’ and the right arm would ‘work’ across their body to reduce moment of inertia rapidly, in turn increasing angular velocity more effectively. Almost 90 percent of the time they will get the choice correct, but what about those 7-10%? What happens when they learn to twist the wrong direction to what MAY have been naturally correct for them? Do they twist ‘early’ or ineffectively? Perhaps they twist early, or ineffectively, because their dominate arm seems to want to work faster in chronological sequence of ‘wrapping’, ahead of their non-dominate which aids in ‘stabilizing’ or setting, to establish transverse rotation effectively.
What perhaps is most important becomes whatever is chosen, right, or left, dominate, or non dominate – twist direction remains consistent in all skill development thereafter.