An athlete must be in control of their environment by using their sport skills properly while many stimuli and obstacles are rushing at them. Balance and stability is a necessity for athletes to compete at a high level. Balance according to Chris Hobbs; Importance of Balance and Stability to Mastery of Sport Skills is “the ability to neutralize forces that would disturb equilibrium. Stability is measured in the level at which one can retain one’s balance while experiencing factors that disturb balance. Stability is defined as “the level of challenge at which one can still balance.” Balance and stability are aspects of sport that may determine whether an athlete is successful in his/her sport.
There are four body systems that are responsible for balance according to an article called The Role of Balance in Sports. The vestibular system is the inner ear. There is fluid in the inner ear that stimulates little hairs and signals to the eye muscles to stay focused while the head is in motion. This helps eye hand coordination. This vestibular ocular reflex can be disrupted by concussions, inner ear infections or age. Vision also affects balance and performance. The fovea in the retina allows us to focus on details which is vital in athletics.
Proprioceptors in joints and ligaments help balance because they communicate to the brain and muscles during any change of direction. This can ultimately have an influence on one’s speed and agility. Lastly, muscle strength and endurance in the hips and core muscles affect balance. When one is strong in these areas one can fend off opponents, perform for longer and ultimately “neutralize forces that would disturb equilibrium.”
What happens when an athlete is on the move and the opponent is attempting to unbalance him/her. Stability is something that can set an athlete apart in terms of athleticism and quality of performance. According to Chris Hobbs there are four principles to increase an athlete’s ability to stabilize oneself. First, an athlete with greater mass has greater stability. Second, an athlete can increase his/her stability with a wide base of support. Third, an athlete can increase stability by lowering his/her center of gravity. Lastly, an athlete can increase his/her stability by “extending his/her base of support in the direction of the oncoming force”. He/she can brace themselves, getting ready for the contact that is coming his/her way.
There are practical ways to train balance and stability. Dr. Cobb at Z-Health has some great training ideas that may improve an athletes balance. Here are some things that can be done to challenge balance. First our foot position can be altered. This is a progression from easiest to hardest.
o Wide stance with bent knees
o Wide stance with straight knees
o Narrow stance with bent knees
o Narrow stance with straight knees
o Staggered feet (one in front of the other) with bent knees
o Staggered feet with straight knees
o Stand on 1 leg with bent knee
o Stand on 1 leg with straight knee
To make this more challenging you can add head movements
o Move your head up and down
o Move your head side to side (side bending)
o Rotate your head to the left and right
To make balance even more challenging try to do it with your eyes closed.
To improve balance, combine these different variations holding the movements for 15- 20 seconds. Perform them for 7-10 minutes 3 times per week.