Preventing injuries in soccer

The last Coaching Soccer Weekly podcast with health care professional from the HSS Sports Safety Program about sports injuries is worth a listen.

It’s the first I’ve heard anyone support my pet theory that sports injuries are caused more by improper body positioning than overuse. The HSS program offers a free 10-15 minute online course (at the link above) to teach proper technique for accelerating, decelerating and changing direction.

I’m going to check it out.

I explained my pet theory last year in my post, The case for juggling.

It’s all about forces. When your body is in proper position, game forces are spread across the body evenly. I think proper position is shoulders, hips, knees and toes are contained within a rectangle.

Reaching outside of that rectangle results in concentrating game forces into smaller areas of the body and are more likely to results in breaks or tears in muscle tissue. That might be someone reaching out with their foot to make a tackle and concentrating all the force from the ball and player behind the ball into the ACL, for example.

It just so happens same position is also most effective for executing soccer’s skills.

You will win more tackles if you aren’t reaching because you will have your body weight on your side.

Staying in that position improves everything — dribbling, passing, receiving and even defending.

That’s one reason why training proper technique on soccer skills is important. It not only makes for better players that can make it to higher levels, but it also reduces the chance of injury.

I also think that the perceived ‘rise in sports injuries,’ (if there is one), is more due to having more teenagers in the sport who don’t know proper ball technique. Bad technique + the weight and strength of teenagers = damage.

The podcast host offered another theory to explain the purported rise in sports injuries: kids not getting a lot of free physical play time as kids, and never learning the motor skills to keep them in proper position.

Anyway…I enjoyed that Coaching Soccer Weekly podcast and I recommend it.

Why the U.S. Men’s National Team hasn’t improved in 30 years

This Coaching Soccer Weekly podcast has a good discussion about isolated technical training (i.e. ball mastery work) during soccer practice and what he heard while taking a pilot USSF’s pilot Director of Coaching course.

The podcast host, Mura, took the pilot course and says that part of the rationale presented in the coaching course to not do isolated technical training at soccer practice, in favor of more game play, was to make practice more fun to keep kids interested and playing longer.

Hmmm…

Soccer cultures that produce world level talent are centered on mastering the ball from early ages. Mastering the ball takes a lot of practice, against opponents and on your own.

U.S. Soccer culture is centered on participation with ball mastery at early ages as an afterthought.

The last 30 years proves that participation doesn’t improve top level talent.

If kids don’t think ball work is fun, then we are attracting the wrong kids or we need to come up with more fun activities that get kids enjoying working with the ball.

If you look closely at ball-centric soccer cultures, you see they have these activities along with knowledge transfer among large age bands (e.g. pickup game with ages from 3 up to adult), encouragement to learn (e.g. the worst juggler gets picked last).

I’ve seen this firsthand here in the U.S.

Help for beginning volunteer youth soccer coaches

Albert Einstein said, “The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple.”

Like many parents who know nothing about soccer, I got the call from the Parks & Rec coordinator to ask to coach soccer.

I was dumb enough to agree. “If you don’t, there are 12 kids that won’t get to play soccer this season.”

The biggest gripe I had as a beginning coach was the lack of resources geared toward beginning coaches and practical advice to help newbies teach soccer fundamentals to beginning players to get players started on the right foot.

I searched high and low and felt that 95% of the stuff was superficial activities that lacked detail on coaching points. Sort of like, “do this and kids will just figure it out.”

Or, it was all over the board. I discovered, strangely, that there’s large disagreement, even among soccer insiders, on what soccer fundamentals are important to work on at what age and order of learning.

Luckily, over the years, I encountered a few folks who, in my opinion, met Albert Einstein’s definition of genius — they made the complex simple.

I thought I would share their resources in this post in case there are any parent/coaches out there, like myself, searching for help.

Inspire love for the ball

Nobody summarizes the importance of becoming a master of the ball or how to inspire it better than Tom Byer in his book, Soccer Starts at Home.

It’s a short book and easy read. It will take you a couple hours to read it. Read it. Encourage the parents of your players to do the same.

Kids cannot learn the skills needed to succeed at practice alone. And, they aren’t likely to do soccer drills at home. So, igniting a love for the ball that gets kids playing with the ball on their own can do wonders.

Build the basicsĀ 

Beginning soccer players, like the beginners of anything, need to develop the basics.

I wish I would have discoveredTom Mura’s Coaching Soccer Weekly podcast earlier in my coaching career.

His podcast touches on a wide range of topics and are more detailed than most beginning coaches need, but a few episodes are required listening for new coaches — with and without a soccer background.

I love the simple phrases he uses to coach the basics. For example, instead of “receive across your body” like many coaches say, he says, “receive with your back foot,” which is far easier for young kids to understand.

Here are a few of his podcasts I wish I would have heard in my first season coaching:

#182 Teaching the Five Core Soccer Skills

#178 What to work on with U8’s

#60 Coaching In Short Phrases

Work with teammates

Another genius simplicity is in the free coaching course offered at 3Four3.com.

The whole course is good (how to build from back, break, get the ball to midfield and attacking patterns), but the whole thing is too much for beginning coaches with a young team.

The one activity you can and should get kids started on day one, and repeat every time, is 3Four3’s version of the 4v1 monkey-in-the-middle game (or start with 4v0 until kids can pass). They call it a 4v1 rondo (‘rondo’ means little game).

This activity can go 10 coaching points deep builds the the basis for keeping the ball, communicating with teammates, moving off the ball to create passing opportunities and defending.

Here’s another post that goes into more detail on the activity, coaching points and links to a short podcast that demonstrates how to coach it.

This is also a fun activity that kids enjoy.

Less is more

Another thing the folks above taught me is that less is more. You don’t need a new activity every practice.That wastes time and energy to set up and for the kids to learn.

You only need a handful of activities with a few variations that allow you to go deeper and progress as kids get the hang of it.

Some fall in the trap of lots of activities to keep kids from getting bored. But, kids also like familiarity. And familiarity takes less time to set up and transition and can lead to deeper learning.

What I wish I would have done more from the start

I wish I would have started with 4v0 progressing to 4v1 instead of partner passing.

I wish I would have done more dribbling around a small area where they have to look around to avoid colliding with each other, make lots of changes of direction and worked on specific surfaces and movements in this drill (inside, outside, cut, pullback, shoulder fake).

I wish I would have done more 1v1’s and 2v2’s. A trick I learned from a local club is to have a mini 1v1 tournament, where winners move one direction down the line to face more winners and the losers move another direction down the line to face other losers. Games are short, maybe 2-3 minutes. This gets them appropriate level of competition quickly, while also giving them some feedback on where they stand in the team.

I wish I would spent more time inspiring a love for the ball and teaching kids how to have fun with the ball at home and more subtly teaching them how to play pickup. That last one is tricky. You have to let the kids figure out the rules, and when you correct them, you have to let them know why, so they might think to repeat that adjustment when they are playing on their own.

One example: In practice, the stronger kids always wanted to team up so they could dominate the others. That might work in the practice where the other kids are captive. But, in the yard, the other kids will simply not play. So, if the stronger kids want to encourage the others to play, they have to learn to make the balancing adjustments to keep everyone interested.

I wish I would have instilled the value that practice is where you come to learn to play as a team and that learning basics like trapping, dribbling, passing and shooting is their responsibility and if they don’t fulfill their responsibility, there will come a time that they will not make the cut.

I wish I would have instilled from day one that the point is to keep the ball with the team and turnovers aren’t good. I see way too many older soccer players that still don’t seem to grasp that idea.

A good session

A good session for young kids is 10 minutes of progressives dribbling using the area activity I mention above.

Another 10-15 minutes of 4v0 or 4v1 rondos.

10 minutes of 1v1s or 2v2s

20 minutes of team scrimmage, reinforcing game principles and referring back to coaching points in the previous activities