The role of balance in American Football

U.S. Military Academy (USMA) Cadet Aaron Alexander (left) stretches to make a diving catch resulting in the first touchdown for the USMA Army Black Knights victory over the University of Southern Florida (USF) Bulls at Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla., on Oct. 16, 2004. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chad Chisholm)

What is balance? 

Balance is a complicated skill which involves several bodily systems i.e., the vestibular system (inner ear), vision and proprioception.

Visual and Vestibular system 

The inner ear is made of semi-circular canals which are filled with fluid. When we move, this fluid moves about, stimulating little hairs which send signals to the eyes. These signals allow the eyes to stay focused when the head moves. 

Here we can see the important role of our vestibular system for hand eye coordination during motion. For example, in order to accurately perform a one-handed catch, the eyes must be automatically focused. This is called ocular reflex. 

hand eye coordination
Atherton, CA. November 18, 2018. Menlo-Atherton High School blanked Bellarmine College Prep 21-0 in Round II of the Open Division I CCS Championships. Photo by Bob Dahlberg.


Proprioception is the ability for your body to recognise itself in time and space. This works through the proprioceptive sensors at all joints and tendons communicating with the brain and muscles. These sensors play a big role on the field, for as you change direction, back pedal or land from a jump, the proprioceptors help us keep our balance. 

A simple way to test our balance is a stork test. In this test, you stand on one leg, with your other leg at a 45degrees angle. You should try to maintain this position for as long as possible. If you cannot hold this position very long, then your proprioceptors may not be able to give you the correct feedback causing you to lose your balance.

What are the typical balance norms?

Rating Score (seconds)
Excellent >50
Good 40-50
Average 25-39
Fair 10-24
Poor <10
Table 1 Stork Balance Stand Test Score (Source: Rahman et al., 2017)

Different surfaces you can use to challenge your balance further

Balance training using different equipment can further improve muscle strength and posture which may be lost due to injury. The less stable the device, the increase in muscle activity that is required to maintain the balance. Of course, it is advisable to slowly build your way up through these rather than jumping to the least unstable first.

Equipment Stability level
Balance cushion Very stable
Hover board Slightly unstable
Wobble board Unstable
Bosu ball Very unstable
Table 2 (Source: Rahman et al., 2017)

Balance training is used as both a method to prevent injury and recovery from injury. If you’re looking to improve your dynamic balance following an injury or even to improve your performance, you should speak with a registered medical practitioner. However, there are some simple exercises you can start to include in your daily life (see below). These exercises should challenge you, however, should never cause pain or discomfort. If this is experienced, please seek medical advice.


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A post shared by Ellie Travis MSc BSc MSST FHEA (@gridiron.strong)

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