Believe it or not, there are many similarities between ballet and football. Many of the same muscle groups are used, both require finesse, strength and balance in bursts, and even similar injuries can be found between football players and ballet dancers. You've likely heard many times before how ballet can benefit football players and today we'll look into how this cross-training really is beneficial to athletes on the field.
Finesse is required in ballet to look fluid, strong and in control all at the same time. It also allows a ballet dancer to use their muscles efficiently. Think of finesse as taking the quick route back home from work… Why take the longer way when you can get home using half the time and gas? In football and ballet, it’s no different. Games typically last hours, and muscle exertion is back and forth from maximum to minimum, much like a ballet dancer standing on the side of the stage before doing a variation. When a receiver in football is dodging a tackle, they can grit their teeth and use all of their muscles and fatigue themselves more quickly, or they can use finesse to move about the field without using as much muscle. Same outcome with much less muscle exertion.
Along with finesse, comes speed. Much like an intermediate ballet dancer begins to learn and understand that relaxed muscles move more quickly, so should a football player. It may feel strong and tough (and testosterone filled) to tense every muscle in their body, but the outcome is scientifically proven to be slower. This doesn’t mean you don’t engage muscles, it means you use them correctly. Playing harder, or dancing harder, doesn’t mean better. It often means slower. Many ballet combinations in class rely on speed to be done correctly with the music. For a football player to master quick foot, efficient and precise foot movement provides countless benefits for every position out on the field.
Its no mystery that balance is essential in ballet, and it should also be equally as obvious how important it is for football players, or any athlete for that matter. Its extremely hard for a ballet dancer to jump well in allegro, turn consecutively and cleanly in pirouettes or developpe in adagio without balance, many of which happen on one leg. This same concept of doing a difficult step on a single leg is no different for football players. By practicing balance outside of their normal routines, a player could more easily begin to understand and adapt better balance in their footing or jumping to catch a pass.
This may not seem as obvious to some, after all, most football players could easily be three times the size of a ballet dancer. However, professional ballet dancers in particular are typically very strong. Pure size and mass doesn’t necessarily equal more strength or being “better”. Since ballet often requires precise and quick movements where being just an inch off can be considered “needing correction,” their smaller “quick-fire” muscles tend to develop to adapt to this demand without adding much bulk. These smaller muscles, possibly pushed aside at the gym by football players in favor of working larger muscles, are particularly useful to offensive players who may rely on strength and quickness, where too much bulk would actually take away from their performance on the field.
Flexibility is pretty obvious. Every athlete requires flexibility to perform well, as the right amount of flexibility allows your muscles to extend longer and into more above-average positions before engaging. Think of how many slow motion re-plays you’ve seen where a football player looks like they could possibly be doing movement from a contemporary piece. Also, notice the limitation of their reach with their legs and arms from their back and torso. While football players do stretch as part of their training on the field, working on flexibility in a ballet class would provide even more benefit as it would likely begin to target muscles they hadn’t previously stretched. There are few sports that understand the importance of strength and flexibility as well as ballet, in fact, it’s practically built on mastering that balance.
On the field, a football player must hear a play and quickly put it into their mind so they can then, hopefully, execute it flawlessly. A ballet class is no different, and maybe more-so, as a teacher usually comes up with a combination on the fly that can easily mix several steps together. Putting together and dancing a combination in ballet class requires you to think what you have to do to execute (and this is different for people of different skill levels of course) the combination “perfectly.” For a football player, it’s no different. They need to execute a certain pattern, footwork, speed, almost like choreography, to execute their part of the play. Practicing this outside of their normal field practice only benefits their ability and mental concentration when its game time.
Football Players taking Ballet Class
Check out this great video of Pittsburgh Steelers player Steve McLendon taking ballet class and how he uses it to improve his performance on the football field.
Try It Out and Improve in Your Sport
If you watched the video, you’ll know that even some professional football players think of taking ballet class as dressing up in a tutu. The sooner more athletes realize the benefits of cross-training with ballet, the sooner you’ll see more athletes advancing even further in their respective sports. This starts with the coaches of today in little-league up to high school, and even college. If you’re a coach, and have an open mind and realize that gritty football practice on the field isn’t the only way to improve your team, try to look into a local school for your team. Especially if its a boy’s team, there’s a chance you’ll be able to get scholarships for them as there’s practically always a shortage of boys in ballet. In the end, if nothing else, the experience may have opened the minds of younger boys who, especially in the US, are always pressured and taught you have to be a tough guy and do something “macho” or difficult to be a man. Ballet isn’t as easy as it looks, and one class makes that apparent for everyone!