United States Sports Academy
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The Sport Digest - ISSN: 1558-6448

Balance and Stability

Balance and stability work as one to ensure that athletes can control their bodies during a particular movement. Although closely related, they are very different in terms of application.

A successful athlete does not always need to be stable, though in general, athletes need to maintain balance. As athletes become more and more unbalanced, they lose control and find it more difficult to complete a desired task.

In many sports, it is the strategy of the opponent to disrupt the balance of the competitor, leaving the competitor more vulnerable to mistakes. For instance, when a defender jumps and puts a hand in the air while the player on offense is trying to shoot, the person shooting will do everything possible to avoid being rejected. Great players, such as Michael Jordan, are experts at maintaining balance in the absence of stability. Arms and legs fly everywhere, but still the movement seems smooth because of their ability to maintain balance while adjusting the shot in mid-air. Less talented players will attempt to adjust, but because they are unable to maintain balance, the shot comes off awkwardly, usually missing the mark by a good amount.

Consequently, if a player were trying to lose a defender as he/she drives towards the basket, the objective would be to upend the stability of the foe. It is much more difficult to defend with flailing arms than by keeping the body between the offensive player and the basket. A player could easily hook around an outstretched arm, as long as the basketball is protected.

However, if the offensive player is unable to move around a defender, the player might be forced to take a shot further away from the basket than desired. Depending on how quickly the defender reacts, the player on offense might also be forced to take a shot while off balance. It is therefore imperative that a good defender keep his/her legs underneath him/her, the chest a little forward and the arms outstretched in order to maintain stability and ease of movement.

Stability is also necessary for a good free-throw shooter. The idea when shooting a free-throw is to be able to repeat and to produce the power needed to shoot the ball with the legs and core of the body. This allows the arms to be free and enables the shooter to propel the ball up instead of out. If the greater mass of the body is not maintained between the feet while shooting, the player must then rely on the strength of the arms to loft the ball, usually resulting in a “line-drive” shot.

A soccer goalie has similar objectives to the basketball defender. The goalie must always be in a “ready” stance, meaning ready to move in any direction quickly. It is the stable goalie who can stay between the ball and the goal. An offensive player may try to fake the goalie into moving in one direction, and then kick it in the other direction. This will cause the lower body of the goalie to move out from under the upper body, forcing him/her to try and block the ball with just a hand.

Stability is of the utmost importance to offensive linemen in football. Their main goal is to protect the quarterback, or whoever has the ball, by blocking the defenders. Offensive linemen are usually large in stature because it is easier to maintain stability when being pushed by the defense. Typically, their balance is not very good, because once they start to fall, they fall hard and fast, with little time for recovery of balance.

Offensive linemen work hard on moving the feet quickly so as to stay in front of their defender, staying in a “ready” rather than upright position and keeping their hands in front of them. All of these elements improve stability and make it more difficult for the defender to get around them.

Running backs rely heavily on balance to charge and dance their way to the end zone, as do wide receivers. Many of the best wide receivers are good because they can make catches while being pushed, shoved, and even tripped. The receivers are often running full bore, and unless the ball is perfectly thrown, they have to adjust to catch the ball. As their mass is moving in one direction at full speed, slowing down or stopping becomes very tricky. A reception called a “circus catch” is named so because the usually wiry receiver has to manipulate his/her body and make an incredible catch either by reaching high into the air, diving, or catching a tipped ball. All of these circumstances warrant a high degree of bodily control or ability to balance.

The position of shortstop in baseball calls for a player who is agile, athletic, and able to make strong throws from odd positions. The basic motion of throwing a baseball will show the player stepping towards the intended target, widening the stance, and lowering the center of gravity, allowing the arm to wind up behind the throwing shoulder and then turning the chest towards and then left (if right handed) of the target, releasing the ball.

A ground ball that is hit directly at a fielder will allow the player to follow the basic motion of throwing. Unfortunately, often the ball is not fielded directly in front of the body. One of the toughest throws for any right-handed player is to be fielding the ball away from first base. As the player’s momentum carries him/her to the right, the ball must be propelled across the body and to the left. A player who has poor balance will usually throw the ball away. The momentum takes over and the body is unable to balance itself while the throw is being made.

Similarly, if the player has poor stability before the ball is hit (perhaps from standing too upright with the weight heading towards the heels) it will cause the fielder time in getting to the ball because he/she must stabilize himself first. Another result could be that the fielder does catch the ball, but in an unbalanced position.

Trying to keep the body stable while making a swing from a static position seems as though it should be easy. Often in golf, a student will be told to swing as hard as possible while in balance. It is not as easy as it looks.

A golfer must maintain a posture that allows the center of gravity to be towards the middle of the body as he/she bends forward with an implement in hand which measures anywhere from 35 to 48 inches. Consequently, he/she must hold this posture to swings the implement (club) while trying to create momentum to propel a golf ball up to 300+ yards.

On video, it is easier to pinpoint a golfer’s line of vertical balance. It could be said that there are actually two lines of balance, one from the side and one from the front. From the side, there should be an equal amount of weight on either side of the line. The head is in front of the line, while the rear end balances the head by protruding an equal amount behind the line. In general, stability in golf posture is pinpointed by how the joints align. The center of the ankles, the knees, the inside tips of the elbows, and the middle of the shoulder joint should all line up for most golfers. If, for instance, the knees have too much bend, the center of gravity is lowered to a point that makes the upper body too erect. Stability is lost, and the center of the mass is shifted towards the heels. If the shoulder joints appear in front of the line, the center shifts towards the toes. The posture writes the script for the swing because the body will compensate for any postural abnormalities.

For instance, if the weight, or center of gravity, is positioned too far towards the toes in order to maintain balance during the swing, the golfer will appear to rock back and then forward. If the body did not compensate, the golfer would fall forward as he/she swung the club back.

From the frontal position, the vertical line of balance does not dissect the spine and head. On a right-handed golfer, the upper spine is tilted slightly to the right. There is a little more weight distributed to the right side, then, at address. This is caused by the right hand being lower on the club than the left. If at any time before impact there is a larger amount of mass in front of the line as opposed to behind, it unfavorably changes how the club comes down to the ball.

There is also a saying in golf instruction that a player should swing between the feet. This is directly related to stability, as the feet are the foundation of the body mass. If the stance is too narrow, as the golfer swings the mass will sway from one side to the other. The weight will be forced outside the right ankle on the way back and from there, many things could happen. The center of gravity could be too high, causing it to move back and forth due to the momentum of the swinging club. If the stance is too wide for that particular player, the center of gravity could lower so much that it inhibits a turning motion and instead fosters a back and forth swaying motion.

Good balance is imperative in movements in which the player is being forced in different directions. Stability is very important to those who wish to maintain a consistent center of gravity. An athlete can be unstable, but in balance. A wide receiver’s center of gravity will change as he/she manipulates his/her body to catch a ball. As long as the wide receiver maintains control of his/her body, or balance, it will be possible to attempt the catch.

The offensive lineman is more concerned with stability. Although on the offensive team, the lineman is defending the quarterback and running backs, and knows he/she will be pushed. Therefore the lineman lowers his/her center of gravity and keeps his/her feet under him/her to stay stable.

A baseball player fielding a ground ball and throwing it to first must foremost be stable in order to move efficiently to the ball. However, often the sharpness of the hit causes the center of gravity to change rapidly as he/she lunges or dives toward the ball. It is then that balance must be maintained in order to not only catch the ball, but to quickly recover so that an accurate throw can ensue.

Defensive players typically are concerned with stability in the sports of basketball and soccer. Hockey could be added to this group as well, but stability is automatically compromised because the lack of friction.

Basketball defenders must move their feet quickly and keep their upper bodies on top of the lower body in order to move with the man who has the ball. If this is done, it will allow the defender’s center of gravity to remain lower and more consistent. This slows down the offensive players and hopefully forces them to adjust their shots.

A soccer goalie is similar in that the objective is to keep his/her feet below his/her mass to project more of a presence within the goal, making it easier to attempt to block the ball with the body and arms rather than just the hands.

When addressing the golf ball, golfers concentrate on a good posture, fostering more stability. Once the club is swung into motion, a golfer will adjust for balance if the stability, or center of gravity, is not towards the middle of the body.

Balance is something that is affected by many factors. How a person perceives, thinks, and reacts about the environment around him/her controls it. Those who are successful at good balance appear fluid and athletic. Those who are not look awkward and jerky.

Stability is an objective for those who wish to maintain control of the mass of the body while moving or being moved. It can be the basis of balance because if the center of gravity is being shifted, it causes the athlete to try and regain balance.

Balance and stability work together to assist an athlete in making efficient movements. Although the definitions are not the same, they are intertwined in that they do affect one another. It is very difficult to talk about one and not the other.