Just imagine changing writing hands as an adult, being forced to kick a football with your non-dominant foot or hitting a tennis ball with your opposite hand.
That’s what Bendigo Spirit WNBL player Alicia Froling had to overcome.
Froling’s basketball career was at a crossroads earlier this year and instead of letting injuries take the game away from her, she decided to make the decision to switch shooting hands.
After two major surgeries on her right wrist, the 26-year-old need to decide whether to retire or switch to shooting on her non-dominant left hand.
“It just got to the point where my wrist wasn’t bending back properly, it wasn’t doing what I was telling it to do, and I couldn’t shoot the ball,” Froling told ABC Sport.
“It was really affecting my game; it was affecting me off the court as well because I was so frustrated by it.
“I was so consumed with trying to rehab it and get it right, and it had been two years since the second surgery, and I just thought this is probably never going to be the same.
“So, I said to myself ‘what can I do?’
“I’d tried everything, and thought well, my left hand works, so let’s give that a crack and it’s paid off.”
Hitting the switch
Froling’s success is a credit to the tireless work she has put in since making the call.
What makes her story even more incredible is the fact she made the decision to switch hands just 10 days before the NBL1 season tipped off in late April.
Playing for the Knox Raiders in NBL1 South – the semi-professional basketball league in South East Australia – Froling had the opportunity to work on her new shooting form and gain confidence.
She was unable to train for two weeks between the end of last WNBL season – where she played for the Canberra Capitals – and commencing training with Knox this NBL1 season because she contracted COVID-19 and had four wisdom teeth removed.
“I went to Melbourne for NBL1 and in the first session my shot was just atrocious, and I thought I had to make a change,” she said.
“Ten days before our first game, we had a shooting session and [coach] Kennedy [Kereama] was like ‘oh my god, we should’ve done this ages ago’.
“Obviously, it still needed plenty of work, but people could see that it actually worked, whereas with my right hand, it just was not working.
“My initial thing was all I need to be able to do is shoot free throws for the NBL1 season and then it came along so quickly and within two weeks I’d hit a three in a game and then my confidence just went through the roof.
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“After literally just that first shooting session a weight had lifted off my shoulders mentally, and even though I knew it needed a lot of work, I could tell straight away that my body was doing what I told it to do.
Anyone who has watched Froling play over the years knows that she’s a relentless presence on the court and will never back down from a challenge.
If there’s a rebound to get – on either end of the court – your money would be well placed on her coming away with the ball.
Her touch around the basket, with both hands, has also been key to her game, especially in recent years as her right hand failed to progress despite hours of daily rehab.
“Since my second wrist surgery I definitely favoured my left hand just because it actually did what I wanted it to,” she said.
“I can still use my right hand around the paint, but sometimes it comes off and it feels so bad.”
Overcoming the mental hurdles
The mental battle Froling endured in the two years leading up to the decision to change shooting hands took its toll.
“For two years I just wasn’t the player that I used to be and people kept asking ‘what’s wrong with your shot?’,” she said.
“And then I was putting myself under pressure too because I was shying away from even doing a lay-up around the basket because I didn’t want to get fouled and have to shoot a free throw as I didn’t know where the ball was going to go if I shot it.
“I was also getting anxious because I was thinking about how this is my job and what if I can’t shoot?
“It was a just a massive mental battle to the point where I couldn’t keep going as I was because it was affecting every part of my life.
“I thought I either had to stop playing basketball all together because it was frustrating me so much that I wasn’t able to be the best I could be or go to my left hand.”
Froling used the NBL1 season as a launching pad into the WNBL season and she hasn’t looked back since.
The Spirit as they remain undefeated at 7-0 and Froling has shone during December.
Through four games in December, Froling is averaging 13.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, highlighted by an impressive 16-point, 10-rebound effort against the Sydney Flames.
Carrying momentum over from the NBL1 season has also been made easier by the fact that Kereama also coaches the Spirit, so there’s a real sense of familiarity for both player and coach.
“Bendigo has been amazing – it’s just a really great group of girls and I think we’re all out there playing for each other,” Froling said.
“Kennedy and the coaching staff are awesome too. It’s still early in the season, but it has been a lot of fun and we do genuinely enjoy playing with each other.”
Despite the injury setbacks, Froling is seeing the fruits of her labour and regaining more confidence with each left-handed basket scored.
“I think one of the most frustrating things for me in recent years was that I knew what I could do and I knew that I could compete at this level,” she said.
“It took a few games, and I got in some foul trouble early in the season, but I know what I can do and I have a lot of belief in myself.
“Now it’s just about seeing how far I can take it.”