DANGEROUS DAYS: Preventing ACL injuries in young soccer players
By Greg Bach
As a youth soccer coach of course you’re committed to helping players learn and develop skills.
But one of the keys is making it happen without one of those dreaded ACL injuries wrecking a child’s season.
“In the past 20 years, research has shown that youth sports injuries only continue to get worse despite the fact that we have all this great research and despite all these injury prevention programs,” says Dr. Steve Grosserode, who teamed with Dr. Jared Vagy to author Prevent Soccer Injuries. “So we have to ask ourselves why are these injuries more prevalent? Why do they continue to occur?”
CORRECTING MISALIGNED MOVEMENTS
Soccer poses injury risk to the knee due in large part to the varied movements players must perform all game long: the constant accelerating and decelerating; the stops and starts; the hard cuts, often at awkward angles; all which place strain on muscles, joints and tendons.
And can lead to devastating consequences.
Couple that with players moving incorrectly and knees take on more stress – and greater risk of injury.
“What we like to compare it to is our bodies are like machines that are very similar to a car’s alignment,” said Grosserode, a Doctor of Physical Therapy from the University of Southern California and co-founder of Movement Solutions with Vagy, a clinical faculty member at the University of Southern California. “So if the alignment is off your car what happens? You’re going to have wear and tear, it’s not going to perform as well, and eventually it’s going to break down. And our bodies are no different – if we continue to move that way it’s going to lead to ACL-type injuries and breakdown.”
Grosserode and Vagy sifted through mountains of existing research concerning soccer injuries; they gathered feedback and advice from the nation’s top collegiate soccer coaches; and they utilized their own knowledge and expertise through years of working with world champion, Olympic and professional athletes, to create what they call a “three step movement solution” that is the basis of their book.
STEP ONE – ANALYZE MOVEMENT
“The biggest thing to pay attention to is watching out for misaligned movements,” Grosserode says of the first step coaches and parents of soccer players need to be aware of.
They share that the five most common misaligned movements that players commit are: too much knee dive in; too much waistline drop down; too much upper body side lean; not enough hip squat down; and not enough upper body forward lean.
Their book features lots of photos and explanations, so coaches can get a visual on the right and wrong way to execute moves, such as recognizing if a player’s knee is bent too far in or their pelvis is misaligned while making a move, for example.
STEP TWO – GIVE CORRECTIVE EXERCISE
The authors serve up a variety of exercises that coaches can share with their players based on which type of improper movement they are performing. For example, if a player’s knee is diving in too much the corrective exercises focus on activating the muscles that pull the knee outward.
“Similar to any habit we develop in life, such as brushing our teeth, the younger we can get kids started with these exercises the better,” Grosserode says. “What we’re finding is we’re making the biggest impact on kids ages 11, 12 and above.”
As coaches determine which types of movements players aren’t executing properly they can provide them with a plan to correct it – both during practice and away from the field at home.
“When a coach sees a misaligned movement they can give specific exercises to perform during warm-up, or assign to them for homework to really correct it,” Grosserode says. “It’s similar to when you go see your doctor and they prescribe a medication; coaches can do the same thing by giving them individualized exercises to perform.”
For some video clips of exercises your players can perform, click HERE.
STEP THREE – IMPROVE MOVEMENT
The final section of the book is devoted to improving players’ movements, both athletic performance-based, off-the-ball soccer moves like running, cutting and lateral shuffles, as well as soccer specific, frequently used moves such as passing, kicking and ball skills.
The authors report that 70 percent of the injuries that occur in soccer are non-contact related, and the majority of these are the result of misaligned movements.
“You can prevent ACL injuries with a focus on neuro-muscular control,” Grosserode says. “What’s neuro-muscular control? It’s a fancy way of saying learning how to change your body’s movements. Different players move differently, just like each individual athlete has different skill sets and different talents, players are going to move differently. Our big goal is to reach the youth level because that’s really where these movement patterns start and that’s really where we need to start to make changes.”
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