(& in other high-contact sports!)
Although I played all the sports and was involved in all the things growing up, it was soccer that stole my heart at a young age. I remember the beginning soccer stages where you pretty much just went for the snacks, oatmeal cream pies, orange slices, and Capri Suns...you all know what I'm talking about! After a while, slowly but surely, things started to get more and more competitive, which meant more and more practices/games.
It was not till I started playing in college that I saw the importance of strength training as well as agility drills to improve my skills and speed on the field. We never worried about strength training during high school or travel ball because it simply wasn’t a part of our program, and it should have been. Looking back, I didn’t realize how many girls, as well as myself, had gotten injuries that could have been prevented with some basic training.
My first injury was the summer before my junior year when I was at the Olympic Development Program (ODP) camp. A tackle from behind caused a break in my left lower leg/ankle. The pain and fear of what was going to happen to me kicked in quickly as I lay on the soccer field not knowing what to expect. As I was transferred via ambulance to the hospital, all I could think was that my soccer career was over, and that my coach from camp was right in saying that I wasn’t cut out to make the regional team at this point because I had a lot of work to do.
However, my competitive spirit didn’t take long to kick in post-surgery! After 6 months of intense physical therapy, (which is where I found my love for PT, by the way), I was back on the soccer field. I trained to be in the best shape, faster than I had been, stronger than I was, and even more competitive than before. A combination of strength training, agility training, proprioception, and sport-specific drills plays an important role in protecting athletes and helping prevent injury before it occurs. We can’t protect them from every injury, of course, but every precaution should be taken to protect them from the ones we can.
According to American Collegiate Soccer Players, the most frequent soccer injuries are ankle sprains, ACL knee injuries (especially in females), hip injuries/hamstring strains, overuse injuries, and concussions. Below are some tips to help prevent such injuries!
1. Dynamic warm up
Get rid of the static stretching and start incorporating a dynamic warm up into your routine prior to practice/game. A more active warm up is shown to better prepare the body for sport. Perform things like high knees, active walking hamstring stretch/kicks, 1 minute of hopping, etc. To learn more about the difference between a dynamic warm up and stretching check out this blog!
2. Strength Training Programs
Strength training is always a vital part of any sport to get stronger and build muscles. However, sometimes it is knowing what strengthening exercises to do and what muscles to focus on. The muscles to focus on for soccer are your core, hips, glutes/hamstrings, knees, ankles, and low back to improve overall stability and decrease risk of injury. Working on lunges, squats, deadlifts, single leg RDLs, and hip circuits. Hungry for more? Check out Tyler's latest blog on strength training!
3. Aerobic/Anaerobic Power
Running is part of most sports. Duh. Soccer has a lot of running/sprinting. Again, duh. Training long distance, sprint drills, and even HIIT workouts can prepare you for some of your best games yet!
4. Plyometric/agility drills
A lot of injuries occur even without contact due to poor landing mechanics or twisting/cutting the wrong way. Training your body to land properly, cut in all directions, and to use proper body mechanics during movements can decrease chances of injury and increase your overall speed and skill.
Balance is probably something that never crosses many young minds in regards to soccer. Proprioception drills assist the body in training the ankle, knee, and hip to work together and improve stability. If you think about it, running is simply a series of single leg jumps, so make sure you’ve got a handle on balance!
6. Cool Down
I know this part can be difficult to focus on, but having a good cool down routine is just as important as a good warm up routine by allowing the body to recover. Stretching, hydrating, and rest are major roles in recovery, so don’t forget to give your body a break after working hard.
Remember: injury is always a possibility, but we can train in ways that allow us to prevent some of these injuries. If you do suffer from an injury, it’s important to rehab it appropriately and completely before returning to play. If you continue to play with pain and weakness, the chances of getting re-injured are high.
Let us know you want to learn more about prevention in high level sports to become a better, stronger athlete than before. We will make that happen!
Thanks for Reading!
Sarah Ritchie PT, DPT
Sarah lives in Dunwoody with her husband, Mike, and two children, Anniston and Grayson. Even though she spends a lot of her time chasing her little ones, she has learned to also take care of herself. She enjoys running/working out, family adventures, girls nights, hiking/mountains, the beach, and, of course, Georgia Football.