The relationship between balance ability and sport injury risk has been established in many cases, but the relationship between balance ability and athletic performance is less clear. This review compares the balance ability of athletes from different sports, determines if there is a difference in balance ability of athletes at different levels of competition within the same sport, determines the relationship of balance ability with performance measures and examines the influence of balance training on sport performance or motor skills. Based on the available data from cross-sectional studies, gymnasts tended to have the best balance ability, followed by soccer players, swimmers, active control subjects and then basketball players. Surprisingly, no studies were found that compared the balance ability of rifle shooters with other athletes. There were some sports, such as rifle shooting, soccer and golf, where elite athletes were found to have superior balance ability compared with their less proficient counterparts, but this was not found to be the case for alpine skiing, surfing and judo. Balance ability was shown to be significantly related to rifle shooting accuracy, archery shooting accuracy, ice hockey maximum skating speed and simulated luge start speed, but not for baseball pitching accuracy or snowboarding ranking points. Prospective studies have shown that the addition of a balance training component to the activities of recreationally active subjects or physical education students has resulted in improvements in vertical jump, agility, shuttle run and downhill slalom skiing. A proposed mechanism for the enhancement in motor skills from balance training is an increase in the rate of force development. There are limited data on the influence of balance training on motor skills of elite athletes. When the effectiveness of balance training was compared with resistance training, it was found that resistance training produced superior performance results for jump height and sprint time. Balance ability was related to competition level for some sports, with the more proficient athletes displaying greater balance ability. There were significant relationships between balance ability and a number of performance measures. Evidence from prospective studies supports the notion that balance training can be a worthwhile adjunct to the usual training of non-elite athletes to enhance certain motor skills, but not in place of other conditioning such as resistance training. More research is required to determine the influence of balance training on the motor skills of elite athletes.
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