Soccer Training Tips from the Pros
By Rachael Goldstein
Soccer has never been more popular in the U.S., and whether you’re playing on a club team or have a child playing for their school or rec team, how you prepare and recover are keys to how you enjoy the beautiful game. We had the privilege of speaking with George Chiampas, United States Soccer Federation’s Chief Medical Officer and team physician with the US men’s national soccer team, as well as Lea Thomann, United States Soccer Federation’s senior medical manager, and they gave us their inside tips for how they keep their players healthy on and off the pitch, as well as how best to prepare for a match or a training session – and how to avoid physical and mental fatigue during the season.
PRE-GAME SOCCER TIPS: Warming up properly before a game or a training session is crucial in helping to prevent soccer injuries. Here, Thomann explains the importance of slowly building up to a rigorous training session or game.
1. Get the Blood Flowing.
The first thing a player should do is “raise their body temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood flow via a light warm-up,” Thomann says. This could include jogging, walking, or hopping on the bike.
2. Activate Key Muscle Groups.
Next, a player should focus on activating key muscle groups and range of motion. At this point, a player should utilize dynamic stretching, as opposed to static stretching. As Thomann further explains, “dynamic stretching includes more functional movement patterns similar to what you’d see on the soccer field. It consists of motions that will stimulate the joints and the muscles, is held for a second or two, and then repeated multiple times.” For example, shuffling, quick repeated squats, lunges across the field, or leg swings.
3. Get Game-Ready.
Once the muscles and joints are warmed up and activated, it’s important for a player to increase their activity level close to what their body will experience during a training session or a game. Examples of this include quick sprints and acceleration drills, jumping and landing mechanics, and high intensity drills utilizing a soccer ball.
GAME TIME/TRAINING SESSION
If a player has warmed up properly, their performance level should be at its peak during the game or training session. According to Chiampas, it has been “shown to be critically important to stretch the muscle fibers and get some of that explosiveness in the warm-up so that when a player goes out and starts the game, it’s not the first time they’re performing these types of movements. It’s also important to stay hydrated and listen to your body. If a player gets hurt or if they feel an injury coming on – like tight muscles or aching joints – they should assess whether they need to step off the field or if they can push through. Listening to the needs and limits of the body will help prevent soccer injuries.
Another crucial part of being game-ready is making sure you have the proper footwear in order to prevent blisters. Thomann says that “preventing or limiting friction to the area is the key way to prevent a blister – properly fitting footwear, moisture wicking socks, good foot hygiene, and keeping the area dry and clean.”
POST-GAME RECOVERY: The work doesn’t end once a game or training session has concluded. Chiampas explains that all players “should treat post-match as the beginning of training for the next match.”
• Recovery. After the game or training session, a player should address any injuries, big or small. This may include foam-rolling, sitting in an ice bath, or speaking with an athletic trainer if there is something more serious that needs to be addressed.
• Replenishment. Protein-rich meals of fish, chicken, or red meat after a training session or game are vital to post-game recovery. It’s also important to replenish your body with carbohydrates, stay hydrated, and get a good night of sleep.
AVOID BURNOUT: Even the pros get tired, and a long playing season, even for kids, can get mentally and physical exhausting, so it’s important to avoid burnout.
• Keep it Fun. It is incredibly important for players to have fun and enjoy the game, especially at the youth level where players may still be deciding if they want to continue playing. The game of soccer is about being physically fit and active, interacting with teammates in a positive way, and learning to grow as a person and as a player. Chiampas suggests “incorporating opportunities for fun and games, as well as growth and mentorship. Watch a movie together, go out together, and create family time. If you do those things at the right times, hopefully that mental burn out and fatigue isn’t there. Create balance.”
• Take a Break. Finally, it’s important to remember that kids, and even older players, need a break sometimes. If you have a kid playing soccer year round, they should try to take four to six weeks off to disengage from the routine of their typical training schedule. It’s crucial to take a break, both mentally and physically. During that period of time, other things like swimming, strength building, and speed training can be incorporated. Keep in mind that more isn’t always better; sometimes it’s good to give kids a break from sports or soccer, let them have fun, and have an opportunity to be a kid. They’ll hopefully come into the next season refreshed and excited to play!
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