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Balance begins with the letter A

Balance begins with the letter A

By Nigel Hetherington, Freelance Sports Education Trainer @Nigel_BH

As a child did you ever imagine rummaging through the whole of Santa’s gift sack - there would have been so many things to play with at Christmas!  However, if you were lucky enough, you probably still found your Christmas stocking crammed with a host of gifts – sometimes too many to fully appreciate – just how did you choose which to play with first? 

Do you find choice can be overwhelming as a coach sometimes?

Anyway, this year I’ve been asked to don the red costume and white beard and play my part.  But, perhaps because of all this austerity stuff in recent times or maybe I should just have been cast as Scrooge, I’m wrapping up just one thing for you as your main present and placing it right at the foot of your Coaching tree.

When you unwrap it you may look at it questioningly; you might not fully understand how this present works at first (though I’ve included some instructions for it below).  So, you can have a great time taking it to coaching sessions next year.  You can even involve your participants in building the final product – you know what these youngsters are like these days – so smart!   You will all be able to see how the pieces fit together, how it works, what affects it and what it affects.  Not since the days of Meccano has there been such a universally appealing yuletide gift!

Now, I’m not very good at keeping secrets, I prefer to share what I find out, so, I’m going to let you have a sneak preview of your present.

We often talk about agility, balance and coordination as being the ABC’s of the fundamentals of all movement.  They are the letters from which we create the sentences that make up physical literacy.

But, the real power in developing coordinated, smooth human movement lies in balance

You see that parcel under the tree with beautifully matching wrapping paper, gift card and ribbon – ‘coordination’, yes that’s it!  Coordination can so often be underpinned by balance – how easy is it to appear silky smooth when running if an athlete is off-balance? 

Oh, and that angular present at the back, wrapped in racy red paper – yes ‘agility and speed’ – well, without balance and the way it supports dynamic movement it would have limited use – a bit like that remote control car you got last year that now has a worn out battery!

So, in many ways balance comes before coordination and agility

In short, balance should begin with the letter A. 

As many of you know, of course, balance is not some new fangled present; it’s a festive favourite and always will be.  Balance is like those slippers from your favourite aunt – not necessarily exciting, but absolutely useful!

A few years ago I was invited into an athletics club, by the club’s coaches.  They wanted me to discuss their session goals, make my observations of their coaching and have a team meeting afterwards for feedback and Q&A’s – they were a very joined-up bunch. 

After reporting on what I saw: i.e. well-organised coaches with athletes working hard all night and having a lot of fun, they looked almost disappointed – like a child on Christmas morning surrounded by a mountain of torn wrapping paper and presents but who has not yet found the one thing they really wanted!   So, I asked them if they wanted their main present!

Seal Balance

The PRESENT I had was my observations of the athlete’s fundamental movement skills from the perspective of balance and how it may be affecting some of the things the coaches were helping the athletes achieve.  These fundamental movement skill observations manifested themselves as clear imbalances in running action, use of starting blocks, starting position in throws as well as long jump take-off and landing positions.

In each case it was possible to find a potential root cause to an observed imbalance in one or more of the four key characteristics of balance:

1. Control of the centre of mass

2. Base of support

3. Counter-balance

4. Core strength / control

The Christmas tree ‘light bulb’ moment for the coaches was not that I had observed these imbalances - they already knew about every single one - it was the fact that a solution to some of their challenges might be much simpler than they thought – just like those really basic jokes in Christmas crackers – short, sometimes painful, but to the point.

The club came back to me with an extended (yet simplified) approach to athlete development program with a real sense of flow to it.

In essence we were able to propose a coach’s action plan in such situations:

Step 1

Peel away the sport specific technicalities, skills and competition outcome goals

Step 2

Remove (for now) the drills that were supposed to help develop the technical skill or strength benefit required

Step 3

Examine the ABC’s and how they integrate into the desired movement patterns of each participant - explore the balance characteristics (above)

Step 4

Set the question: how can this affect fundamental movement skills, fundamental sports skills and sport specific skills?

Step 5

Explore some candidate fixing tools – strength, strength balance, mobility, coordination (which may be drills) etc.

Step 6

Needs - identify basic movement patterns to allow the chosen tools to meet needs at the individual participant level

Step 7

Training - integrate the movement patterns into training through a variety of means – use of individualised drills or make up a game – have some fun!

Merry Christmas – and enjoy your PRESENT from those coaches!