Why Soccer Coaches Must Understand Biomechanics
“Biomechanics is the science which applies the principles of mechanics to the unique study of how human beings move and to the athletes how they should move to achieve optimum performance” (Peter Stothart, 1980-1981). As athletes and soccer players in particular, continue to progress along the developmental continuum, more emphasis is placed on the importance of sound biomechanics in all aspects of the sport such as speed, power, accuracy, force, and balance. “As the athlete’s performance level increases, so increases the sophistication of his technique, thus placing a greater dependence upon the coach’s knowledge of biomechanics. For sports in which technique plays a large role, and for increasing levels of competition, the less a coach can afford to ignore the principles of biomechanics” (Peter Stothart, 1980-1981).
There is no question that coaches must thoroughly understand the biomechanical principles within their respective sport, however, coaches must equally be able to recognize technical flaws and more importantly, effectively communicate to the athlete “how” to correct such errors. Biomechanics expert Robert W.K. Norman said, “One of the most difficult problems which confronts coaches when they are teaching fundamental skills is that of detecting errors accurately and specifically. If error detection is inaccurate or non-specific the quality of instruction and the consequent learning on the part of athletes will be poor” (Robert Norman, 1975).
According to Peter McGinnis (2005), the application of correcting or applying new technique is either qualitative or quantitative. The qualitative instructions are based on a combination of observations and recommended adjustments to enhance the athlete’s performance while the quantitative aspect is based on new technical executions discovered by biomechanists in a research setting (Peter McGinnis, 2005). Soccer coaches with a strong base of knowledge regarding the biomechanical principles can immediately aid athletes with qualitative feedback directed towards the “cause of the error”.
As previously stated, coaches must be able to effectively communicate to athletes “how” to correct errors within their technical executions. Specifically, Robert Norman (1975) discussed the importance of coaches being aware of the differences between correcting a “symptom” and addressing the “cause of an error”. “Often coaching advice is directed towards correcting a symptom of an error or an unimportant idiosyncrasy in the performance. This leads to a slow and indirect approach to skill development at best, and to non-specific or even incorrect advice at worst. The advice should be directed towards the cause of the error” (Robert Norman, 1975). For instance, if a soccer player is constantly missing his or her target with a pass, the coach who provides “symptom” based feedback could tell the athlete their plant foot is not pointing towards their target, but in reality, such feedback is ultimately not the “cause” of the error as players often connect passes while looking one way and passing it in a different direction. Instead, the coach with a thorough understanding of soccer biomechanics would provide feedback that addresses the “cause of the error” by saying, “Johnny, you’re toes and ankle are not locked as you make contact with the ball causing the ball to go astray” or, “Johnny, your stance leg must be slightly bent and engaged (stable) in order to provide support for your body as you initiate the technique.”
Overall, coaches with a strong background in biomechanics can effectively develop players through sound qualitative “cause of the error” feedback. More importantly, by properly applying biomechanics, coaches can help athletes prevent injuries and therefore increasing overall athletic performance.
McGinnis, P. (2005). Biomechanics of sport and exercise (2nd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Norman, R. W. K. How to use biomechanical knowledge. In: How to be an effective coach,Vol., Taylor, J. W. (Ed.).
Toronto: Manufacturers Life Insurance Company & the Coaching Association of Canada, 1975, pp. 92-111.
Stothart, P. What Biomechanics Has to Offer the Coach. Coaching Science Update :29-31, 1980-81.