As a physical therapist, I see many avoidable injuries happen every year when young athletes get back into soccer without proper preparation. Below are 4 crucial steps to help your soccer star better prepare for and navigate the season. We have also provided links to a 6 week Return to Sport program and exercise ideas to help keep athletes of all ages injury-free so they can stay in the game.
Gone are the days of sitting in a circle and stretching before practice. Research has shown that you are less likely to get injured if you perform what we call a dynamic warm-up. The goal of a dynamic warm-up is not to make you more flexible. The goal is to prepare your tissues and muscles for high-level activity that is required for a sport like soccer. Be sure to include dynamic warm-up activities before every practice and game, to prepare your body for the exertion of the sport and to help you avoid injury.
The word “core” gets thrown around a lot and unfortunately many people don’t have a good concept of what your core actually is. Think of a house. If your house is not built on a solid concrete foundation, it doesn’t matter how strong and thick the beams are that hold up the house, eventually the house will start falling apart. The same is true for the body. You could have the strongest legs and arms but if your core is not solid, it will lead to dysfunction or injury. Having a good foundation of abdominal strength, glute/pelvic-hip strength, and low-back musculature strength will help keep you injury free.
Soccer is not played in a straight line. We must be able to move in many different directions and do so quickly to be successful in sports such as soccer. A strength program that has us moving in one plane will not translate functionally to the field of play. A good injury prevention and sports performance program requires an athlete to move in multiple directions (forward/backward/sideways/diagonal). Below is an example of a lunge exercise performed in multiple directions. This is a much more functional and beneficial exercise than performing straight lunges.
Soccer requires bouts of quick acceleration and quick deceleration. An athlete must get to max speed as quickly as possible, but then may also have to slow down quickly to change direction. Speeding up and slowing down quickly require very different muscle contraction. When athletes are training, they tend to focus on developing speed and power. What is missed, and is usually when injuries occur, is when they are required to slow down quickly. Examples of this are cutting, changing direction, or landing from a jump. To prepare for this, a good injury-prevention program should include what we call plyometric training. This involves jumping, landing, multi-plane hopping, bounding, and agility training. Below are a few examples of plyometric exercises that will challenge both the acceleration and deceleration required during sport.
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