Soccer: a physical therapist’s point of view

August 20th, 2019
A teenage girl kicks a soccer ball during a game.
From ball handling to pivoting prowess, soccer builds physical skills and coordination. It also builds physical strength. Photo by Getty Images.

For a sport that builds strength and agility, while fostering teamwork and communication, look no further than soccer.

“There’s the mental side of it, which involves teamwork and self-awareness, and the physical side, which involves dynamic movements and coordination,” said Dave Grinnell, a physical therapist and board-certified clinical specialist in orthopedics at UCHealth SportsMed Clinic in Steamboat Springs. “And at the end of the day, it’s a fun game.”

Benefits

From ball handling to pivoting prowess, soccer builds physical skills and coordination. It also builds physical strength.

“If you watch a soccer game, you’ll see players are moving all the time, making quick changes of speed from a slow pace to a full-blown sprint,” Grinnell said. “That puts a demand on the body to go from anaerobic to aerobic activity.”

And don’t forget the strength of character that soccer develops. Players learn to work as a team, to communicate, to listen to their coaches and do their part as best as they can.

Possible Injuries

This is a photo of Dave Grinnell, a physical therapist at UCHealth SportsMed Clinic in Steamboat Springs.
Dave Grinnell is a physical therapist and board-certified clinical specialist in orthopedics at UCHealth SportsMed Clinic in Steamboat Springs. Photo by UCHealth.

In any competitive sport, games can be chaotic. “Fans are cheering, coaching takes place from the sideline and teammates are trying to communicate with you,” Grinnell said. “Meanwhile, you’re focused on the ball, other players and running on an unpredictable surface. All of those factors can increase the risk of injury.”

Ankle sprains and non-contact knee injuries, such as tears to the anterior cruciate ligament or ACL, may result from quickly changing direction or decelerating. Intense forces on the hips may result in impingement and labral tears. Muscular strains, especially to the hamstrings, are also common.

For younger players, growing muscles and tendons can pull on the shin bone or heel bone, causing pain.

Preventing injuries

Building both strength and balance are key to a successful soccer season.

“Strength and muscular endurance are huge components because soccer is a very dynamic game,” Grinnell said. “Players change direction quickly, moving forward, backward and to the side, all of which requires precision balance. And when you’re trying to get a lot of power behind a shot, you have to be stable and strong on your stance leg.”

Muscle imbalances – such as having strong quadriceps and weak hamstrings – can result in a greater risk of injury. A physical therapist or other professional can help identify imbalances and create a strengthening program that works well for you.

“We can assess your movement patterns, such as jumping mechanics and how well you change direction and decelerate, and make recommendations for specific changes in an attempt to reduce your risk of injury,” Grinnell said.

Grinnell also recommends a dynamic warm-up, in which a player goes through the range of motions they’ll encounter on the field.

“It primes the body to get ready for movement,” Grinnell said. “You’ll raise your core temperature and increase blood flow, which gets muscles ready for higher metabolic activity.”

And don’t forget the value of resting in the off-season. Be wary of overuse and overtraining, as too much time on the field can result in injury.

The spirit of the game

In this photo, Dave Grinnell plays soccer for Hope College in Holland, MI.
Grinnell played left midfield for Hope College during the NCAA Division III tournament in 2003. Photo courtesy Dave Grinnell.

As a soccer coach and player himself, Grinnell has a few other tips for players and their parents.

“Parents should cheer their kids on, but let the coaches do their jobs,” Grinnell said. “You don’t want to have the coach telling a player to do something on the field that relates to team management, then have the parent yelling the exact opposite thing.”

Respect other players and coaches, as well as referees. And keep the game fun.

“Kids can become burned out when sports seasons overlap and their growing bodies don’t have adequate rest to heal,” Grinnell said. “It’s great to be a multi-sport athlete, especially early on, but you should allow time for rest and rejuvenation.”

 

This article first appeared in the Steamboat Pilot & Today on June 17, 2019.

About the author

Susan Cunningham lives in the Colorado Rocky Mountains with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys science nearly as much as writing: she’s traveled to the bottom of the ocean via submarine to observe life at hydrothermal vents, camped out on an island of birds to study tern behavior, and now spends time in an office writing and analyzing data. She blogs about writing and science at susancunninghambooks.com.