Spring is here and soccer season is well underway for athletes across all levels. Whether playing outdoors or training indoors, here are some helpful tips to keep you healthy while training for soccer.
- Warm up with dynamic stretching: A warm up period for 10-15 minutes is important before any athletic event as it allows for mental and physical preparation for the activity. A warm up can increase both muscle and core temperature allowing for better blood flow throughout your body. Research supports the use of dynamic stretching as the preferred method of stretching because it is functionally based and emphasizes the use of sport-specific movements to prepare your body in moving through the appropriate range of motion for an activity rather than on individual muscles. Stretching increases flexibility, the ability to move your joints through a full range of motion, thereby reducing the risk of injury. The warmer and more flexible your muscles are, the less susceptible they are to injuries. For optimal benefits, it is best to stretch before and after practice or competition.
- Lower extremity strength: Quadriceps, glutes, and hamstring muscles all play key roles in supporting your body when running on the field, jumping up for a header, crossing the ball, or shooting on goal. Strengthen these muscles and notice a difference in your running speed and in the power behind those passes and shots!
- Single leg balance: Most movements while on the field involve single leg activity. If your balance is poor when standing still on one leg, imagine how difficult it will be to maintain your balance in the second half of a 90 minute game. When your muscles are tired, you lose the ability to maintain stability, especially when going in for a tackle, changing direction quickly, or taking a shot.
- Core strength: The core, also known as the muscles related to your abdominals, lower back, pelvis and diaphragm are important for maintaining good posture and proper alignment while playing sports. A strong core becomes even more critical when a player becomes tired towards the end of a game, when injuries tend to occur due to fatigue. The stronger your abdominals are, the better your coordination, balance and body awareness when performing quick cuts on the ball, and changing directions.You’ll also have more power behind your passes and shots.
- Endurance: Most injuries in soccer occur when you’re mentally and physically ‘spent.’ The average distance that a soccer player covers when on the field during a 90 minute game was found to be approximately 6 miles, involving lots of stop and go movements, along with changes of direction. Depending on the age and level of competition, it’s beneficial to train with long endurance runs (greater than 1-2 miles approximately 2x/week, on non-practice/game days), along with short distance sprints that simulate game-like situations while at practice.
- Proper footwear: A pair of comfortable shoes with good traction and stability that are appropriate for the terrain you are playing on is important for preventing injuries. Research studies recommend a shoe design with flat, evenly arranged cleats to prevent injuries. Proper fitting shoes allow the player to efficiently perform fast accelerations, stops, rapid cuts and turns. Soccer shoe design can also influence shooting speed and, even more important for the game of soccer, kicking accuracy.
- Additional tips: When you’re out on the soccer field, be conscious of your posture and alignment. Keep your eye on the ball. Stay hydrated and most important of all, have fun!
Michelle Yang PT, DPT, is a pediatric physical therapist at Hospital for Special Surgery. She enjoys working with youth athletes on injury prevention to help them play sports safely and efficiently. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling and training for marathons.
Reviewed on March 28, 2018.