Injuries are terrible. They may be a parent and player’s worst nightmare. They not only take a physical toll in terms of lost playing time, they can take a mental toll as well.
Sometimes that mental toll, especially with something like a torn ACL, is much worse and a bigger hurdle to overcome, than the physical injury itself.
No parent wants to see their young player on the sideline for an extended period of time. Or struggling with their confidence once they return to the pitch. Or even simply being behind developmentally because of the time off.
This can have a detrimental affect on a player’s confidence which can turn into a downward spiral that hurts development and performance.
Yes, sometimes injuries happen. You can’t prevent them completely.
However, the good news is there are things you can do to reduce the chances of getting hurt. This means more time playing the game you love.
Athletic careers are short.
You want to spend as much of it as you can playing the game, and not watching from the sideline, or going to physical therapy and doing rehab.
Where’s the fun in that?
There has been a huge rise in non-contact injuries in sports, including soccer.
While some non-contact sports injuries ‘just happen’, as I mentioned above, I believe many come from over training.
Some also occur from bio-mechanical (movement) issues.
And yet others stem from overuse, which is really just a popular way of saying over training when talking about youth sports.
Especially from those against the idea of a child playing one sport. But that’s a discussion for another day.
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Injuries can happen for many other reasons as well, but these are the areas where we have some control (Side note: Here’s a fantastic podcast episode on learning to focus on controlling what you can control <<==) and can possibly reduce your chances of injury.
There are many different moving parts to development and the training youth soccer players go through is haphazard at best.
There are not enough qualified coaches, both sports coaches and strength and conditioning coaches, to teach proper training, which includes a recovery component (shout out to all the good one’s making a difference!).
Lack of proper recovery time and protocols may lead to over training.
In many areas of America, high school soccer is six days per week, with as many as two to four games per week and practice sessions that drag on for two plus hours.
Teams may play 17 – 25 games in 7 or 8 weeks. Soccer just isn’t that kind of sport. It can be a grind and as the season moves along, the chance of injury goes up because bodies can’t recover from the stresses of the season.
Studies have connected soccer injuries with game frequency (Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2015 Feb; 10(1): 114–127).
Club soccer isn’t exactly innocent when it comes to injuries, either. That being said, it’s not necessarily over training or over use.
I think it’s more that it’s all “in season” now.
This leaves no time for athletes to go through a properly designed training program to get their bodies stronger and more resistant to injury.
You can’t have proper off season training to help reduce injuries if there is no off season in the first place!
The off season is the time for athletes to improve, from their technical skills to their overall athleticism.
Injury prevention, including overuse injuries includes:
- Proper Nutrition
- Movement Mechanics
The simple act of proper strength training will help prevent injuries and improve performance.
One thing I’ve noticed in my time coaching and training athletes is that too many of them don’t know how to move properly.
It’s true that proper mechanics aren’t natural for everyone and like most everything else they can be a learned skill.
However, I have been amazed at how few athletes can perform certain movements. While I haven’t done a study, my best guess is that most kids don’t play anymore.
They don’t go outside and run around or climb trees. They tap their phones. So soccer players only get movement at soccer practice.
I’ll never forgot one time having a team out over the summer to train. We played soccer but also did some conditioning and body weight training.
It was amazing to me how few players could perform a proper body weight squat, or do a bear crawl, or a lunge, or even a plank. These were the athletes of their age! I can only imagine the train wreck of sedentary kids trying to do this!
Simple body weight squats had kids falling backwards, knees collapsing inward, rounded backs, you name it, they were doing it.
You can’t perform a sport like soccer at a high level if you can’t move properly. You’re also an injury waiting to happen! I won’t even get into the fact that many of them (12, 13 years old), couldn’t complete a mile!
As I mentioned in the private Facebook group (join if you haven’t!), right now I want to focus on two specific movements that can help with over use injuries.
These are two of my favorite movement patterns for athletes, both for injury prevention but also for improving overall athleticism. More on these movements below.
2 Movements Soccer Players Must Do To Prevent Injury And Improve Overall Athleticism and Performance
If you want to become a stronger, faster, quicker, more explosive and more powerful soccer player, you need to be training these two movement patterns.
And yes, they can help prevent injuries, too!
They should be in any athlete’s toolbox, not just for injury prevention but for improved athletic performance as well.
One is the hip hinge. The second movement is the squat. An athlete must be able to perform these movements.
Not only must they be able to perform them, they must train them and train them properly.
As an athlete you’ll not only help to prevent injuries, you’ll improve performance.
The Hip Hinge
The hips are involved in everything. The psoas muscle is the one muscle that connects the upper and lower body. If our hips are not right, we can’t function properly.
Amazingly, our hips have an impact on pretty much everything else the body does.
Whether you want to sit, stand, sprint, jump, change direction, stop, twist, bend or whatever else, your hips play a key role in how you perform those activities.
The hips will also help determine whether or not you’re an injury waiting to happen. The psoas even protects the spine.
The hips are the source of everything an athlete does, including your power. Want to be a great athlete? You better not have weak or tight hips.
I don’t want to get too deep into all of this but the hip region is home to four muscle groups, including the abbductor/adductor group.
There is also the lateral rotator group, the gluteal group and the iliopsoas group.
These muscle groups are responsible for all the different ways your hips move.
Learning to hip hinge properly and training the hip flexors is crucial, both for injury prevention and athletic performance.
And of course there’s squatting. It’s concerning how few young athletes can squat correctly. They must learn to do so.
In fact, here’s a great exercise you can do to help perfect your squat technique. It’s been referred to as the Chinese Wall Squat.
The Chinese Wall Squat
It’s simply a bodyweight squat facing a wall and it’s done to correct and learn proper squatting form, not as any type of workout.
You stand a few inches from a wall with feet forward and about shoulder-width apart. Facing the wall!
Then squat to max depth without touching the wall. This forces proper squat form.
It’s okay to stand a little further away from the wall when first starting. Try six to eight inches away and move closer over time.
Anyone who is squatting with weight SHOULD be able to do it but even if you have good squat form it’s not easy to do.
Again, move back a little if you needs to. Not everyone can do it from there for a lot of reasons, such as leg bone length, ankle flexibility etc.
Modern society has done a number on everyone with regards to proper movement patterns. It’s crucial that athletes have both a base of strength and the ability to move correctly.
Keys to Improving Overall Athleticism
- Proper Movement Mechanics
The hip hinge and squat are indispensable movements that must be mastered and strengthened.
My two favorite exercises for these patterns are the goblet squat (using a kettlebell or dumbbell) and the kettlebell swing (you can also use a dumbbell).
Keep in mind there are a lot of squat variations, including some really good single leg squats that soccer players must do, but be sure and nail your form on the goblet squat and bodyweight squat first.
We’ll discuss other variations, including the all important single leg movements, in another article.
Here’s video of both of these exercises.
Goblet Squat with Dumbbell
Goblet Squat with Kettlebell
Now there are many variations of the squat but bodyweight squats and goblet squats are the best place to start and will serve you well your entire athletic career.
There are also other hip hinge exercises but the kettlebell swing is the foundational hip hinge movement!
The legendary track coach Charlie Francis was very critical of speed coaches that would train the hamstring muscle as if it were a knee flexor and not a hip extensor.
The kettlebell swing provides a jump-like loading of the hips, and while not exactly that of sprint mechanics it is close enough to provide a lot of carryover.
A proper kettlebell swing also provides a powerful hip extension at the end of each swing. Athletes need this and it is missing from many hip hinge exercises. It improves both technique and power in numerous athletic movements.
According to Pavel in the book Easy Strength, “The swing is highly adaptable to the metabolic needs of power athletes, team sport athletes, track athletes and athletes from contact sports… As Dan (Long) has colorfully put it, ‘The swing is a fat-burning athlete builder.’”
Become a better athlete and a better soccer player. Hopefully, a healthier one, too!
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