This week, I would like to talk to you about one of the most elementary and fundamental concepts in sports – the importance of having good technique while participating in an athletic activity. For our student-athletes out there, you will be quite familiar with the terminology that is used here. This is also called being in good athletic position.
So, first, what is “athletic position” and why is it important? At the most fundamental level, being in good athletic position simply means making sure that you are physically and mentally prepared for the play that is about to transpire before you. It means understanding the game situation that you are in and employing your team’s strategy to put yourself in the best possible situation to make a difference on a given play. In it’s most oft-used application, it means being in bio-dynamic position with your body physically to react to a play.
That might sound like a lot of words, but after practicing it, it becomes second hand nature. Let’s break it down. Let’s start with the physical component of athletic position. Take any sport – soccer, basketball, baseball/softball or football. On offense, your goal is to make something happen and likely win a one on one physical competition with your opponent. Hitting a pitch, moving the ball by a defender. On defense, your goal is to stop that movement or disrupt it. Now, let’s visualize this. You and your opponent are facing each other. Can you defeat your opponent by standing flat-footed? Perhaps – but it’s hard. Your body is not positioned correctly and it takes a few critical seconds to get your muscles primed and firing to react to the situation. You are not quick and concise. In sports, seconds matter. Inches matter. You’re not ready, so your opponent can capitalize and defeat you in that moment.
So, what does athletic position look like from a physical standpoint? Look at a picture of an athlete – a baseball/softball player, a football player pre-snap, a basketball player. They are facing the direction of the play, eyes focused on the area of the start of the play or the player that they are competing against on that play. Most importantly, they have their body in a ready position. Bio-dynamically, they are ready. They are on the balls of their feet, muscles primed. Their knees are bent. That is one of the most critical parts of athletic position. In the prior example, it takes you a few seconds to get into that position to react to a play. When you are in athletic position, you are primed and ready to go, to react to the play. Due to that, you also reduce your risk of injury.
For a very basic example of this, let’s look at a fly ball in baseball/softball. If you are not in an athletic position, a ball is hit to you and you spend the first two seconds trying to get your feet under you and your body moving in the right direction. Only then can you track the ball and have a chance to make a play on it. More times than not, you will not succeed. You took too long. On the other hand, if you are in athletic position, a ball is hit to you. You start tracking it right away and you start moving towards in, say, half a second to a second. You were in position, so you have a chance to make a play on the ball. See? That one second gap between the two examples can be the difference between recording an out and, if there were runners on base, giving up runs.
The mental side of athletic positioning is just as important. It’s more subtle, but it is there. Let’s go back to the fly ball example or a defensive back in football, soccer, etc. It’s great to be in proper athletic position so that you can properly react to the play. But how effective is that if you are not lined up correctly depending on a given situation? If your defensive zone can be drawn on an imaginary line, does the physical part do much good if your opponent is utilizing the left part of your line but you start the play all the way to the right? Probably not. The importance of the mental side of athletic positioning is understanding your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses along with your team strategy. If a player is known to pull a fly ball or is known to dribble close to the sideline, position yourself accordingly to counter that strength. Then, being in proper athletic position physically will make a difference.
Athletic positioning is one of the most basic and fundamental skills in sports, yet it is one of the most important for in game play. It can make or break a moment. As we know, games are a collection of moments that are one and lost based on many different factors. Put yourself in position to be your best and to be competitively positioned by ensuring that you are in good athletic position. It is not just a catch-phrase that coaches use.