Ankle Stability

Watch this video on Ankle stability first!

I went scouring youtube for ankle stability exercises recently due to an incident during a session. I had a new client who tweaked her ankle during our session. Upon asking she told me that she has tweaked it before and that it had been an issue ever since. Every player has this happen at least once and if this goes unaddressed then the potential for re-injuring the joint becomes compounded. 

The realization that you exist in the entirety of your body is a hardly talked about concept in the youth soccer community. It is a serious one and not a nebulous abstraction. Articulate control of every joint in your body should be a goal that every human has, and this is especially true of the soccer athlete. Take for example baseball, and other hand -eye sports. The dexterity and range of control that we have with the hands is far greater naturally in humans by the nature of our existence. We crave comfort and therefore seek to achieve things in the easiest most comfortable way, sometimes to our own detriment. The fact is that hand and finger control is far more developed than that of the feet and toes because, when it comes to a species needing to accomplish such necessities as basic yet as essential as eating. Why would a species that craves comfort do such things in such an uncomfortable and inefficient fashion? 


If the body is the vehicle we drive around this space, inherently control of it is a prerequisite to the application of fine motor operations. Simply said, if we exist in this body we should know how to use it. But not just that, we should be able to apply control of it in the various contexts we can use it. Any human that is aiming to excel in athletic endeavors should be very aware of this concept. 


I urge you to not take this as a trivial point. Though it is clear as day that we are born into these suits of sinew and bone, fine motor control of all the articulating joints of the feet is hardly ever talked about in youth soccer. We have the ability to utilize our hands in a number of ways but we only use our feet to move about. Walking and running and jumping utilize a very linear plain of movement. We don’t naturally think in detail about the way our feet make contact with the earth. For the soccer athlete this is a massive contributing element to the success of any single movement with the ball in the game. In this game we move in not only linear directions but curved ones as well. We twist and we turn, the inherent leaning and pivoting movements  in this game call for the correct control and placement of the feet on the ground. When you roll an ankle, or sustain a knee injury without contact this is because of an improper connection between the foot and the floor. The human body is a Tensegrity. This means that the balance of our body while on our feet, or in any position, is dependent upon all other parts of the body. You can easily see this by trying to achieve balance in any unilateral static positions. Try standing on one leg and notice how your arms will naturally begin to extend to give your brain a better reference point of where your body is in space. Not only the arms influence this, where one’s head is tilted can also throw off ones balance. Again try a simple experiment. Try shaking your head around erratically while balancing on one leg and see how long you can keep your balance.


Balance in the body is something we have naturally but hardly work to refine. We have symmetry naturally built into our anatomy and this is another form of balance in our bodies. We have two eyes, arms, legs, and sides of our body. However we are dominant in one hand, we drive on one side of the road, we are seated on one side of the car, we even chew on one side of the mouth. Now in all these actions it is possible for us to execute the same task in the opposite position, yet it is not something we ever practice due to convenience. In the same way that we have fine motor control of our hands and use them more due to convenience, we neglect to recognize the fine motor skills necessary to execute technical mastery of the ball in soccer. The mastery of the ball takes mastery of not only the feet, but the body.  In order to master the feet, balance, or mastery of your body in space, is necessary. 


As above so below. If you are given two of the same tool, you should be twice as effective as the person with only one of the same tool. This is if you can properly utilize both of the tools at the same time in such a way that the one does not hinder but helps the other. In soccer this is seen and exemplified in players like Xavi ( ) and Iniesta ( ). Their ability to maneuver the ball on both sides of their body is plain to see. But what we fail to recognize that this only arrives due to refinement of balance on both sides of the body. Another point we fail to recognize is that though the right foot might be in control of the ball, the left side of the body is the side that propels body’s movement through space and vice versa. If you can articulate each one of your fingers, shouldn’t you be able to articulate each one of your toes? I challenge you to manipulate your toes one at a time in the same sequential way that you can wrap your fingers around a ball when you throw or catch one. 


My point is this. Football (soccer) is game that requires deft body control and balance therefore fine motor control of the feet is something that I would like to shed a light on. In order to avoid injury in a game where the body is being asked to change directions in both linear and curved fashions, balance should always be a concept that is exercised and stressed. The more a player is balanced in control of their body, the more resilient and resistant they will be to injury. This also will lend itself well to the versatility of a players skill set and ability to solve problems in the game no matter where the pressure comes from. 


Mastery of both sides of ones body, aka balance is also a very mentally engaging concept. It requires a balance of mind in order to attain a balance of body. The two are connected synergistically. This means that they propel one another. This means that they should help and not hinder each other! 


So how does one master balance? How does one move from a place of no control to a place of seemingly effortless control? I would like to highlight the mentality needed to achieve this. The first time I tried to move each one of my toes individually and sequentially as a piano player would with the fingers, I recognized something. First, that I couldn’t. When I realized that I had hit a blockage my mind began to run and the thought that it kept running into was that “I couldn’t”. As I kept trying, I kept realizing that I couldn’t until suddenly through the repetition of the action while focusing on the realization of what I was visually hoping to achieve( first pinky toe, then then next, and the next) I got closer, and the thought became “oh, there it goes, I can!”. I began to release the mentality that believed I couldn’t and I began to believe that I could. It was when that mental switch occurred that the ability to physically control my body became more natural. 


This a something I hope for all my players. The mentality that is balanced and not thrown off by momentary failure. I stress momentary because humans are very susceptible to creating our opinions, images and beliefs of ourselves and what is possible or attainable based on our moment to moment interactions within our environment. If we stumble on the sidewalk we try not to look as if we are clumsy, when really we only had a clumsy moment, we are not a clutz because of one instance of imbalance. Whenever we have a moment that is not in line with who we believe ourselves to be we often subconsciously reclude and tense up. This tensing of the mind over time can make you rigid mentally and yes, you guessed it, this also correlates with your physical rigidity!


Let’s focus on solutions, the mind like the body is malleable. This means that we can change mentally and this change will also be realized in physical level. If we become more flexible and resilient in the mind so too will we become flexible and resilient in the body. As above so below. If it can happen first in the mind then it can be expressed in the physical domain. The belief must be that ultimately you will prevail and hit your target. This is why setting goals is so important. Focusing on them, holding the image of them calmly and clearly in your mind is necessary to achieve them, and we only get to the point of mastery by transforming our perspective on momentary failure. We have to look at the failed attempt as a clue as to how to get to success. In this way each failure becomes a step closer instead of a reason to stop trying. Learning from our mistakes sounds simple but it means that we are aware of what we did wrong in order to correct it the next time. This means that we are honest with ourselves and hold ourselves to a high standard but that we also recognize that the standard or goal we have set for ourselves will take patience to attain. Time and distance make things seem impossible or improbable. They are both only conceptual and visual hallucinations. Things seem like they will take long when they are far off but that’s only because you are standing still in the here and now picturing something seemingly far off in the there and then. When you take action and begin to move towards your target with mental fluidity instead of rigidity the speed you move at becomes quickly amplified and the momentum you build hurtles you forward towards your goal much quicker than the person who is always defeated by the perceived failure of a mere moment.


The goal is balance first mentally, and then it will be exuded physically. This is what the game taught me.

written by Coach Sean