Injury Prevention: Disparate Sides are as Hazardous in Sports as they are in Politics

What’s so bad about being sided?

soccer strike girlNearly all of us have a side we prefer. We’re right-handed or left-footed or we may bat right and throw left, but when asked to choose a side, we do. This is why people like Oakland Athletic’s pitcher, Pat Venditte who throws both ways, is such a phenom, though even he has a different look from each side. We’re all made that way: symmetrical, albeit not a mirror image, but oriented similarly toward a central axis.

So, how can sidedness be a problem? Well, our current national politics may shed some light on this. Where two sides may be considered helpful and even healthy to provoke conversation and perspective, when those two sides move far from the middle, that is, when they are widely disparate in strength, coordination, agility and message, that creates a huge gap – a veritable black hole for performance. The middle, where movement is initiated, gets lost or tips badly to one side.

Let’s get out of politics and look at how that disparity may create problems for the young athlete. Sidedness causes or contributes to:

  1. A strong side and a weak side, and left un-checked, the strong gets stronger and the weak, weaker, exacerbating the difference and weakening overall performance.
  2. A tendency to use only one foot, and left un-checked, the favored side becomes more skilled while the unfavored side becomes less so. This makes a player much easier to defend and reduces effectiveness.
  3. An imbalance which reduces coordination, and left un-checked, requires whole body compensation which leads to instability. Combined with poor core strength, this player spend a lot of time on the ground.

Acknowledging that we all have a preferred side, it is to every athlete’s advantage to use their sport to work on their “lesser” or “weaker” side. This not only balances strength, skill and coordination but it makes them a greater threat on the attack and more effective in defense. Their playing effectiveness is way more than doubled as they build this into their game.

So, why do players suffer from sidedness? Two biggies: time and expectations.

Time is limited: Training both sides requires more than twice the time that solo-side training does. The weaker side needs to be brought up to speed. Some say the weak side should receive twice the attention the strong side gets. That’s a lot of time spent on miskicks, wayward passes and whiffs. That’s a big cost, and what team can afford to have players doing that?

Expectations are high. If we win, we advance. Who’s going to try their weak foot when there’s so much on the line? Even when coaches instruct and encourage players to use their non-dominant foot, kids under pressure go to what has worked for them in the past. We all default to what’s comfortable. That’s the dominant foot. That’s natural.

To address the sidedness issue, which ultimately will pay dividends in performance and injury prevention, requires time, attention, and patience. The question is: are you willing to wait and work? Will you devote the time early in a player’s development to help them use both sides? Can you reduce ‘outcome’ expectations enough to allow them to risk it?

12291133_10156286255560475_5319703638624493307_oWhat’s it worth to you? Because players can’t see it. Probably their parents aren’t looking for it either. But sidedness, left unchecked, will grow over time. It will be reinforced in training, and these patterns of movement will become habits that are very hard to break. Unhealthy movement practices become ever-present risk factors for injury.

What can we do about sidedness in our players?

  • Expect and look for it.
  • Train to reverse it.
  • Address it early, before it becomes a habit.

They’ll probably never thank you for taking the time to help them balance strength, coordination and skill, because they won’t know how it could have gone wrong. That’s okay. You’ll know.

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