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Coaches Blog

Sam's Blog is a bi-weekly addition to the US Youth Soccer Blog. Sam Snow is the Coaching Director for US Youth Soccer.

 

Prevent Soccer ACL Injuries: Quick Tips for Coaches

Sam Snow

Prevent Soccer ACL Injuries: Quick Tips for Coaches

By Dr. Steve Grosserode DPT and Dr. Jared Vagy DPT 

The ACL and Injury

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury rates are high in youth soccer and have been increasing the past 20 years. These injuries have serious effects on the lives of players, teams and coaches. The ACL connects the thigh bone to the shin bone, helping to prevent twisting and bending of the leg. However, if too much twisting or bending happens at the leg, injury can occur even if there is no contact. In fact, non-contact injuries are responsible for over 70 percent of injuries. 

Trying to figure out what causes these injuries can be confusing. ACL injuries are often blamed on factors that coaches and players cannot control. These factors can be bone structure, hormones or even gender. What is usually neglected is a key reason for injury that we can control: misaligned movement.

 

Misaligned Movement Can Lead to Injury

What is misaligned movement? The human body is like a machine similar to a car. When a car's alignment is off it begins to have wear and tear, perform poorly and then ultimately it will break down. Our bodies are no different. If the body's alignment is off during athletic movement, the body can experience wear and tear, perform poorly and eventually get hurt. Just like we are trained to operate a car skillfully, soccer players need to be trained to move properly. This starts with correcting misaligned movement patterns. 

It is important for coaches to know that just like each player has different skills and abilities, each player has a different way of moving. Certain players may even demonstrate misaligned movement. 

There are many types of misaligned movements. Coaches should watch out for a common misaligned movement that leads to ACL injury: the knee collapsing inward (image 1). Research shows that players who suffered an ACL tear demonstrate a greater amount of knee collapse. The knee can collapse inwards during fundamental movements in soccer. These movements include planting, decelerating and changing directions at high speeds. 

Fortunately, there are exercises that can help to correct misaligned movement. Just as a doctor may prescribe specific medications to treat different illnesses, coaches can let the player know what's going on and give specific exercises for homework to help correct the specific misaligned movement pattern. We will focus on the exercises that help players who demonstrate the misaligned movement called knee collapse (image 1). 

                                                  

5 6

 

(Left) shows the knee collapsing inwards.                 (Right) shows proper knee alignment.

 

 Prevent Knee Collapse with Glute Exercises and Cueing

Glute strengthening and coach's guided instructions (cueing) to move correctly is often overlooked in injury prevention and player development. The glute muscles are the main muscles that control the knee from collapsing inwards. Weakness of these muscles can lead to misaligned movement and injury. It is essential to use the glute muscles to keep the knee in proper alignment especially during planting, decelerating and changing directions (image 2). 

Coaches can help by telling players when they demonstrate this misaligned movement of knee collapse and cue them to keep their knee out while using their glute muscles. Coaches can also assign corrective exercise homework. An excellent way to activate the glute muscles is with a resistance band wrapped above the knees. The glute muscles are used to press the knees against the band to align the knees. 

Perform the three exercises listed below as part of a pre-practice warm-up program to activate hip muscles to stop knee collapse, prevent injury and improve athletic performance. Use a low-resistance band and perform each exercise for 1 minute. The low resistance and long duration will allow hip muscles time to activate but not fatigue.

 Squats – 1 minute

Purpose: Activate specific hip muscles while decreasing stress on the knee.squat

 

A: Put your feet through the exercise band and wrap just above knees. Stand with feet shoulder width apart.

B: Equally bend from your waist/hip and knees. Stop when thighs are parallel to the ground. Make sure to keep knees behind and aligned with the second toe. Squeeze glut muscles upon return.

 

Side Steps – 1 minute 

Purpose: Activate side hip muscles that prevent the knee from collapsing inward.side

 

A: Put your feet through the exercise band and wrap just above knees. Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Equally bend from your waist/hip and knees into a quarter squat position. Make sure to keep knees behind and aligned with the second toe.

B: Use hip muscles to step out to the side with one leg. Slowly step the other leg in while keeping tension in the band.  

 

Monster Walks – 1 minute

Purpose: Activate specific injury prevention hip muscles while keeping proper knee alignment.Monster

 

A: Put your feet through the exercise band and wrap just above knees. Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Equally bend from your waist/hip and knees into a quarter squat position. Make sure to keep knees behind and aligned with the second toe.

B: Bring foot forward and to the side by squeezing the muscle on side of hip. Make sure you maintain tension on the band.

C: Step other foot further forward and to the side while keeping tension on the band.

D, E: Repeat 

Conclusion

Misaligned movement occurs in soccer when players perform athletic movements while the body is not aligned. While there are many different misaligned movement patterns, knee collapse is perhaps the most common and unsafe. If one of your players demonstrates knee collapse, then it is important for the coach to recognize this and tell the player how to correct. In addition, resistance band exercises such as the squat, side step and monster walk can help by activating the gluteal muscles to stop the misaligned movement of knee collapse. This improved movement can prevent injuries and maximize athletic performance. For more information on the various misaligned movements and how to correct visit: yourmovementsolutions.com 

About the Authors

Dr. Grosserode and Dr. Vagy are Doctors of Physical Therapy and co-founders of Movement Solutions. They are co-authoring the upcoming book Prevent Soccer Injury: Lifelong Player Development. Visit yourmovementsolutions.com for more youth sports injury prevention information.

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Project Play Summit

Sam Snow

Recently, I had the privilege of attending the second annual Project Play Summit in Washington, D.C. More than 450 leaders at the intersection of sport, youth, and health attended the summit which is beginning to guide a revolution if you will in the way Americans participate in sports. The 2016 Project Play Summit, details are worthy of the time to be read and videos viewed by all youth soccer leaders. If you have not already done so then please read the seminal Project Play report, Sport for All, Play for Life: A Playbook to Get Every Kid in the Game. Project Play's latest report, "State of Play: 2016”, will soon be released and I will be sure to share it with you.

Here are a few of my bullet point notes from several presentations –

  • Inclusion increases the pipeline of participants
  • Only five states in the USA require physical education
  • 0 to 60 is a new program with the goal of 60 minutes of activity per day for all children
    • A mental and physical health crisis is upon us due to a lack of movement/play involvement
  • Clubs must ask kids what they want
    • Coaches need to ask players what they want on a quarterly basis
  • NCAA research shows that 2/3 of soccer players have specialized in just soccer by age 12. This trend is proving to be detrimental to college level performance by those players.
  • Coaches – use video games to help participation and performance
  • Some communities have become play deserts
  • Get kids into sport to learn social skills as well as sports skills
  • Many of the speakers’ messages reminded me of the ancient Greek saying of – A Sound Mind in a Sound Body
  • Physical literacy is mental, social and physical
    • In soccer physical literacy activities must be required through age 12 (Zone 1)
    • An extra effort must be made with the girls
    • Parents and coaches should be examples of an active lifestyle. Those adults should get out and play soccer with the kids once a month
       

No matter what the sports related event is that I attend, I am always impressed with the number of soccer folks in attendance and the Project Play Summit was no exception. At this Summit I spoke with Skye Eddy Bruce, Wylie Chen, Scott Dane, Paco Espinosa, Ed Foster-Simeon, Stephanie Gabbert, Tom Gross, Dave Guthrie, Bethany Henderson, Mike Hoyer, Sheri Huckleberry, Ted Kroeten, Lori Lindsey, Marc Maxey, John O’Sullivan, Richard Pavlick, Tab Ramos and Tom Turner. I think that you’ll be interested in comments on the Summit from a few of them.

 

Skye Eddy Bruce (Soccer Parenting.com) - I wrote a SoccerParenting.com post with my thoughts from the Summit – which you will find in the link below.

http://soccerparenting.com/2016/05/23/project-play-project-parent/

Stephanie Gabbert (Director of Development - Colorado Storm) - I think a key component in this movement is the willingness of the stakeholders involved to make these ideas and strategies happen. There were many 'preaching to the choir' moments with a large room full of people nodding their heads in unison. But many of these strategies and changes require economic investment from varying sources, including government, corporations, and individuals. Finding ways to help fund these amazing strategies is just as important as the concepts themselves.

Dave Guthrie (Executive Director - Indiana Soccer) - The information and data presented at the summit confirmed that the US is experiencing a “sedentary crisis” that is having a significantly, unfavorable impact on people, families, and communities; and is straining the very fabric that supports our society. The research shared quantified the ANNUAL cost of the “sedentary crisis” as over $35 billion in direct medical costs; $57 billion in productivity losses and 33 million years of life lost.  The crisis, as daunting as it is, becomes even more disturbing when one considers that the health condition of youth in the US continues to deteriorate; 30.3% of 6-12 year olds in 2008 were considered to be healthy to an active level as compared to only 26.6% in 2015.  The good news is that US Youth Soccer and the thousands of community-based, member organizations possess a viable, affordable solution to the “sedentary crisis”.  The next steps are to identify, educate, and secure a commitment from stakeholders to provide access for ALL youth; in order to affirm and secure that “The game IS for all kids”. The question remains; will US Youth Soccer lead?

Dr. Sheri Huckleberry (Assistant Professor of Coaching Education at Ohio University)  - We need to tell our story and cultivate the future of coaching educators. We can make the difference!  We can set an example! If we work together I know youth sports, physical activity and play will thrive. 

Ted Koreten (Artistic Director of Joy of the People) - The first rule of free play is...you don't talk about free play; the second rule of free play is...you don't talk about free play. I liked that the studies showed that kids with the best physical literacy came, not from multi-sport athletes, but the kids in the poorest demographic--these kids also showed the fewest rates of overuse injuries. The great paradox we have to solve is that in order for free play to work it can only be for fun. If we try to do it to improve it will not work.

John O'Sullivan (Founder, Changing the Game Project) - I was struck by the statistics on health outcomes simply by getting kids moving 30-60 minutes a day. Soccer is the perfect sport for this, as it can be played anywhere, anytime, with any number of kids. All you need is a space and a ball. Yet we seem to be creating so many barriers to entry through costs, travel and commitment so very young. Our sport should be the perfect gateway sport to a life of activity.

 

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Player Development

Sam Snow

I want to share with you excerpts from a few US Youth Soccer documents that are great resources to any youth soccer coach. All of the documents can be downloaded for free from the US Youth Soccer website. To kick off, here is the introduction to the US Youth Soccer Player Development Model – Spatial Awareness.

 

A Progression for Coaching the Tactical Use of the Field of Play through Concepts of Space

This paper is not an analysis of individual, group or team tactics. Nor it is a discussion of systems of play. Instead it provides the youth coach with an age appropriate approach to teaching players concepts of concrete and abstract spaces on the field of play. As players mature at judging distances and angles on the field in relation from themselves to the ball, goals, opponents, field markings, teammates and corner flag posts then tactical decision making within the Principles of Play improves. This document provides coaches with developmental markers to be used within a thorough curriculum for player development, such as the US Youth Soccer Player Development Model.

All concepts, Principles of Play and specific tactics need to be learned in well planned and properly conducted training sessions. Look to the Coaches page on the US Youth Soccer website for session plans on these topics and more.

Soccer, like all team sports, involves both elementary and sophisticated tactics. Of primary importance is coaching players in the concepts of the game – known as the Principles of Play. Of secondary importance is coaching specific tactics to execute the Principles of Play. Gradually broadening players’ awareness of space and the use of space on the field will lead to more enjoyable and attractive soccer. The general Principles of Play and the division of the field help clarify tactics for the beginning player and competent coach. Within the zones of the player development pyramid from the U6 age group to the U19 age group, coaches should stair step players into elevated awareness of tactical tenets. Beginning with general concepts, coaches should progress players' knowledge to specific tactics in exact areas of the field. While it is true that knowledge of the theory of the game helps the player to choose the right tactics that tactical ability depends on equally developed theoretical knowledge and practical experience. Neither theory nor practice can replace the other.

Understanding the characteristics of the age groups will help coaches be realistic about the tactical ideas that youth players can comprehend. However, do not be locked in by the age group while coaching the Principles of Play. Take a step by step approach toward awareness of space and the use of space on the field of play. When players can grasp the concepts then teach them. If the players are not ready for a tactical idea then wait until the next season.

A recommended approach helping players progress along the developmental pathway is the use of ‘street soccer’ games. In these games clubs could mix the age groups and/or genders to provide for a richer learning environment. Another option is to use the ‘academy approach’ for an age group. In this approach the players are not on a fixed team roster, but remain in a pool of players. Those players then move between training groups dependent on their developmental needs at the time. More details are available on the US Youth Soccer website on both possible approaches to enhanced player development.

The Laws of the Game can be used as one of the tools in helping players improve their spatial awareness. Start young players understanding of the soccer field first with the actual markings on the ground; i.e., boundary lines, halfway line, etc. As they move up in age groups there will be new markings on the field for them to learn such as center circle, penalty area and so on. By the time they are in the U12 age group all of the markings from a senior soccer field will be seen.

Beginning with the U6 age group use maze games, and then beginning with the U10 age group add in target games, to help players get into the habit of lifting their head to see the field. In training sessions use dots, disks and cones to mark tactical spaces on the field in order to literally ‘paint the picture’ for the players. As players learn about the marks on the field of play they can be introduced to some concepts about the field that will impact how they play the game. For the youngest players it starts with understanding our half of the field and the other team’s half of the field. Progress this understanding by introducing abstract concepts about spaces on the soccer field kicking off with the channels on the field and concluding with the mental picture of the field as almost a graph paper grid layout.

While the first concept of space on a soccer field is horizontal, the halves of the field, the next to be introduced are the vertical spaces known as channels. Next to be taught to players are the horizontal spaces of the thirds. Finally, we end with subdividing the channels and thirds.

You can download the full document here: http://www.usyouthsoccer.org/us_youth_soccer_releases_spatial_awareness_coaching_guide/

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Soccer's Bright Future

Sam Snow

BLOG_Soccer’sBrighterFuture

There are positive changes taking place for soccer in the USA. Here are two of them worthy of special mention.

Youth Members Technical Leaders Work Group

Not long ago the technical directors of the AYSO, MLS Youth, SAY Soccer, U. S. Futsal, U. S. Club Soccer, U. S. Soccer, USSSA and US Youth Soccer began meeting to devise plans for improving the youth soccer landscape to the betterment of the American player. Never before has such a group been assembled. It is quite exciting to see the teamwork among all of the members of this auspicious group of soccer leaders.

Three meetings have taken place to date. The group plans to meet on a quarterly basis. The outcome of the meetings already held has been an inclusion statement and commitment by all of the organizations, recommendations to member clubs and leagues on implementing the change with player registration to birth year, discussions on increasing coaching education opportunities and last but most certainly not least the creation of a standard set of modified Laws of the Game for Zone 1 under the new small-sided games format. Those modified rules are now being vetted by a select group of leaders in the referee ranks. Soon the rules will be published for the soccer public to use. Beginning this summer take a look on the websites of any of the organizations noted above to find the modified Laws of the Game for soccer for children in the 5 to 12 year old age groups.

National Soccer Hall of Fame

Yesterday, May 5, I had the privilege to attend the ground breaking ceremony for the new National Soccer Hall of Fame. America has a rich soccer history dating back to the mid-1800s. The Hall of Fame will house artifacts and tell the story of soccer in our nation from many different levels of the game. The Hall is being built into the south end of Toyota Stadium the home of FC Dallas. That gives the Hall a central location in the USA and a chance for soccer fans attending the multitude of soccer events in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex a chance to visit.

During the groundbreaking ceremony the newest class of inductees into the Hall of Fame were announced. Brandi Chastain, Don Garber and Shannon MacMillan were honored yesterday with the announcement. Brandi was in attendance and participated in the groundbreaking. You can read more about the event here: http://friscoblog.dallasnews.com/2016/05/soccer-icon-brandi-chastain-helps-break-ground-for-new-hall-of-fame-museum-at-friscos-toyota-stadium.html/

FCD1

Figure 1 Front entrance off of Main Street at the South Gate of Toyota Stadium

FCD2

Figure 2 The view from the field of the expanded south end of the stadium and the National Hall of Fame

 

 

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