Why Strength is important for soccer players
Current strength and conditioning trends involving agility and speed discuss the lack of proper technique and movement patterns in our youth athletes. The overall decrease in free play, sedentary lifestyles and sport specialization contribute to an increase in youth sports injuries. I have always said that I believe that soccer players are more prone to knee injury because the sport is played mostly “on one leg”; meaning, if you have the ball or are defending, the majority of weight bearing is on the support leg without the ball or reaching for the ball in the case of defense. Soccer also is a sport where quick, directional change and agility are advantageous. If you combine these two facts with improper movement patterns and a lack of strength the results will be an increase in lower extremity injuries.
Nearly every youth soccer player today has video or coaching instruction on one v one soccer moves used to create space and opportunity in today’s game.These moves, or movement patterns, are practiced consistently so they become second nature on the soccer pitch. If you look at the historical evolution of soccer skills and the change of direction soccer moves in combination with the coaching instruction and accessability of video demonstration I believe you have a possible contributing reason for the increase in knee injuries in the game of soccer. Just imagine for a moment the coach who is fascinated by Sir Stanley Matthews’ and George Best’s cuts or Johan Cruyf’s turn. They, in turn, teach this move to their athletes. Aspiring youth players are training improper movement patterns when they imitate their international heroes’ soccer moves. Proper change of direction in sport is taught by having the athlete push off the outside leg. Soccer cuts are impossible to perform with this instruction due to the fact that the outside leg is in control of the ball when performing the cutback move. Since the cutback move is one of the easiest moves to perform, it is taught at an early skill age. Here we have the beginnings of the faulty movement pattern instruction.
What can we as soccer and strength coaches do? It would be impossible to change the concept of play by asking athletes to not perform certain soccer moves, so let’s forget that revolutionary idea. A good overall strength program highlighting unilateral leg, hip and core strengthening is a good place to start. Agility training to reprogram change of direction skills would also be beneficial. My idea is to highlight certain change of direction soccer moves which are “injury-free friendly”; i.e the pullback or change of speed, stepover, the Cristiano Ronaldo heel chop just to name a few.
I am not proposing that soccer injuries will be eliminated by changing coaching instruction, that is akin to marketing injury prevention which is impossible. We will never be able to eliminate injury in sport. However, I see this as a novel marketing idea with possible health benefits based on teaching correct movement patterns in one of the world’s most popular sports.
Having played soccer since I was 5 years old, I can only remember one teammate who had knee injury issues. Ironically, his favorite soccer move was the cutback.