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Kinesthetic Awareness Explained For Coaches

What is Kinesthetic Awareness?

Kinesthetic awareness is a person’s ability to sense their body’s position, understand how it moves through space, and make adjustments to complete a certain movement or position themselves in a precise way. Such awareness heavily depends on proprioception––the body’s internal ability to sense its position and movements.

At first glance, kinesthetic awareness and proprioception sound identical, but there are some subtle differences. Here’s an example to help you differentiate between the two:

Take an athlete performing the barbell back squat. Proprioception helps the trainee to understand the position of individual joints (e.g., the knees) and body parts (e.g., the feet) without looking at them directly. 

It’s essentially a sense of where the body is relative to the uprights of the squat rack, how it moves, and how individual joints flex and extend. It also provides a sense of the spine’s position and how individual muscles engage.

Kinesthetic awareness is the ability to sense movement through proprioceptive feedback and make adjustments if necessary. For instance, if the trainee tilts forward, kinesthetic awareness makes it possible to adjust the position backward and shift more weight toward the heels.

In essence, proprioception provides the actionable information the trainee needs, and kinesthetic awareness uses that information to make the appropriate adjustments to complete the movement safely.

The Importance of Kinesthetic Awareness in Sports

Kinesthetic awareness is crucial in complex team sports like football, as well as individual ones such as Olympic weightlifting, because it allows athletes to perform various movements with precision and position themselves correctly.

Good awareness helps with balance, coordination, and timing, all of which are crucial in many sports situations, whether to thrust the barbell upward at the right time, get a head start on the defender on the opposing team, or be at the right place to receive the ball for an easy bucket in basketball.

Furthermore, kinetic awareness contributes to proper form and helps athletes maintain stability during intense activities (and even understand and control the ground reaction forces generated), thus contributing to a lower risk of falls and injuries. 

Developing Kinesthetic Awareness

Most people develop basic kinesthetic awareness through daily movement, exercise, and interaction with their environment. 

However, sports are more intense than daily life and involve more complex, dynamic, and unpredictable movements that require greater kinesthetic awareness. 

Because of that, it’s important to work on kinesthetic awareness and fine-tune it to put athletes in the best possible position for optimal performance and safety. 

One somewhat overlooked way to improve kinesthetic awareness is to have athletes perform certain drills (easier ones at first) blindfolded

While that should not make up a significant chunk of their training, even a few minutes of doing activities like that can improve one’s awareness and the ability to gauge proximity to different objects in their environment.

Additionally, sport-specific training (activities that closely mimic the movements involved in a sport) can also help with kinesthetic awareness.

Asymmetrical training is another coaching tool that improves athletes’ awareness. This training approach involves loading the body unevenly and placing athletes in various dynamic and less stable positions that force them to constantly make adjustments to maintain stability and produce maximum force.

Throughout it all, monitor your athletes and their performance (precision, balance, and coordination) and look for potential issues in any movements or difficulties with stability. Also, ask athletes to describe how they feel when performing particular activities, such as whether they feel stable and can accurately gauge their body’s position.

Athletes who struggle with kinesthetic awareness (which is not that uncommon when teaching more complex patterns) may benefit from studying film. For example, you can record some of their training and sit down to examine everything and provide helpful feedback they can apply next time.

FAQ

How to test an athlete’s kinesthetic awareness?

One practical way is to get the athlete to perform a complex movement following a brief demonstration. That way, they can’t rely on muscle memory or skill. 

Additionally, you can have athletes adjust their movements or body position midway through a drill without visual guidance or a demonstration. This is an excellent way to test their ability to perceive and change their position and movements through proprioceptive feedback.

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