Navigating the developing young athlete today can become a complex and costly journey at times. High tech training programs, multi-layer coaching and sports gear promising enhancing skill sets can lead to time commitments and money that may/ may not improve the athletes’ performance. While I am not saying these paths are not helpful, for most young athletes, I believe that the very basic skills of young athletes are being undeveloped.
Young athletes develop their athletic skills at various ages. While it is essential to know the techniques of your sport, it is also vital to develop fundamental movement skills that can enhance your level of play in your sport.
But what are Fundamental Movement Skills (FMS) and why are they important? FMS are simple motor skills such as running, balancing, hopping and kicking. These skills are the precursor or building blocks for more specialized sports specific skills. FMS helps build competency and confidence to participate in sports and recreational activity that can become part of a healthy life after sports. These are skills that should be developed before sports specific skills.
In future articles, I will discuss other aspects of FMS but today I want to go over one of the FMS that is often undeveloped but is critical in improving the developing young athlete, and that is BALANCE. In sports, learning balance is essential in enhancing sports performance. Balance plays a role in many sports: a baseball pitcher winding up to throw a pitch, a sprinter in track and field running down the track or a soccer player attempting to kick a ball to score a goal. At one point all of these athletes must have good balance to perform at their highest level.
Former Detroit Lions NFL Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders is an excellent example of how balance is critical in sports performance. If you look at any of his highlight films- I highly recommend you take a look- his ability to change directions on the field and avoid tackles while running is fluid and eloquent using great BALANCE and body control. Improving balance helps with improving muscle group coordination that will naturally increase when performing challenging tasks. For the young developing athlete, this helps with reaction time, agility and body control.
On Episode 32 of the DYA Network podcast show, Former Pro Soccer Player and US Army West Point Men’s Head Soccer Coach Russell Payne discussed what he felt were the five attributes of athleticism in a soccer player. Out of the 5 attributes which included: speed, quickness, agility, power, and balance, he felt that balance and stability were crucial. He discussed how he had a soccer player that was not gifted with some of the other attributes, but the player had great balance. The player was great at positioning himself between other players and the ball. His great balance gave him an edge, making it difficult for players that were bigger, faster and stronger and more athletic to knock him away from the ball.
Coach Payne also noticed that if players did not have great balance, it was difficult for even some of the more athletic players to improve their skill set. Soccer players spend an enormous amount of time on one leg and having balance during this time is critical in this sports specific skill. Coach Payne indicated that one of the foundations of a good soccer player is being able to keep the ball and not give it to the other team. This requires coordinated control of muscle movement and balance while in possession of the ball.
Balance is a critical skill that can be learned with practice and repetition. The following are drills that can be performed anywhere for athletes of all ages.
David Edwards Founder of the DYA Network.