Is there anything more frustrating to a keen soccer player than sustaining soccer training injuries in a match? Actually, probably yes. And that is getting injured during training. Imagine the frustration for a professional coach. Your key defender is called up for International duty; he is not picked to start any matches, but picks up an injury during training. He will be missing for six matches, which could make the difference between a successful season and, in the current results driven environment, dismissal.
For soccer training to be of use, it has to be intense (at times at least) and challenging. Therefore, the risk of being inured is probably greater then than getting hurt in a competitive game, because a lot more time is spent training than actually playing, even in the amateur and youth divisions.
The Most Common Soccer Training Injuries
Unsurprisingly, for a sport where most play involves the legs and feet, these are the parts of a player most likely to suffer from injury. They fit into three broad categories:
- Breaks and Fractures
- Sprains and Ligament Damage
- Muscle Strains and Pulls
Breaks, dislocations and Fractures
A broken leg can end the playing days of a participant. It will almost certainly end their season. Fortunately, this serious injury is relatively rare. Fractures can also occur to cheekbones reasonably frequently, when players clash when attempting to head the ball; for goalkeepers to their fingers and wrists. Falling awkwardly can also expose players to the risk of shoulder dislocation. Sadly, in many ways, these types of injury come with the territory of being a soccer player. Other than ensuring that pitches (artificial or grass) are suitable for soccer, and in good condition to avoid trip injuries, there is not a lot that can be done to prevent them.
The most common breakages and fractures are to the metatarsals. These five bones in the foot can be damaged by both sudden impact, for example a stamp in a tackle, and also a wear and tear injury caused by pressure through over use.
Young players, with their growing bones, are particularly vulnerable to this latter form. Since youngsters rarely like to give in when their bodies tell them to rest, good communication with parents can help to identify when a player needs a break. Conditions such as Severs Disease and Osgood Schlatter’s disease are common in young players, especially boys as they hit puberty and they experience rapid growth. These diseases usually do not prevent participation, but coaches need to understand that their players may be fit one day, but unable to play the next.
In fact, players of any age must learn to trust their bodies and know when they are overusing their bodies. Coaches also need to engender an environment where such self-diagnosis is regarded as responsible, rather than a sign of weakness.
A breakage to a metatarsal is usually treated with anti-inflammatories, and a spell in a plaster cast. Several weeks is usually required before even light training can be restored. The risk of a recurrence of the injury increases if the damage is not properly healed before a return to play.
Sprains and Ligament Damage
Knees and ankles are the most vulnerable to these. They are as likely to occur in training as they are in a match. A slightly bad tackle, or an awkward landing, are the most common causes of damage. Again, there is little beyond having a pitch in good condition that a coach can do to avoid these injuries.
However, players become more vulnerable as they tire. Their reactions slow, and they are more likely to over strain. A good coach will recognize this in players, and adapt training sessions to end with more sedentary activities, or use substitutes to relieve players prone to tiredness.
Establishing good physical fitness is also important to prevent soccer training injuries.
Damage to the knee is normally more serious than to the ankle. Ligament damage here will usually result in severe pain and extreme swelling, and medical attention is needed. Serious cases, as with a bad break, will usually require several months of rehabilitation. In extreme circumstances, it can end a career. Once a knee injury has occurred, players are more vulnerable to them in the future, something coaches should consider in training and matches.
A severe ankle sprain is a soccer training injury that requires medical attention, and players are likely to need crutches to manage weight on the foot. Lesser ones may feel sore, but will usually recover in a week to ten days. The rapid application of ice helps both knee and ankle injuries. It reduces swelling and also helps to ease pain.
A player goes over on his ankle – a sprain is the likely outcome
Muscles Pulls and Strains
It is a regular sight – a defender turns and sprints towards the ball, then suddenly stops and hops a few steps before falling down clutching the back of their leg. Hamstring. That means at least six weeks out. People know if they have a ‘hammy’ – it hurts. Groin strains are also common. These are usually less painful but will prevent players from running or kicking the ball. Although they can cause no problems for everyday living, returning to play before a groin strain has healed will almost certainly mean it returns – perhaps with the tear or strain being more severe than before.
The location of pain from a groin strain
These clips show how clearly a hamstring injury is recognized.
Avoiding Soccer Training Injuries
The following points will help to keep injuries to a minimum during a training session and, therefore, during a match.
- Warm Up Properly: Stretches (slow and held, not bouncing), gentle jogs, easy kicks before shooting – each of these allows muscles to be ready for a good, intense training session.
- Cool Down: Muscles also snap after exercise. Similar exercises as for a warm up will help them to ease down steadily, avoiding injury.
- Ensure Resources are In Good Condition: Kicking a flat, heavy ball; using a pitch in poor condition; using damaged gym equipment, or not educating players in how to use machinery; using adult equipment with young players while their muscles are developing; trying to make do with damaged equipment: all of these increase the chance of injury for players.
- Encourage players to understand their own bodies: We are the best judges of when we are tiring, and thus increasing our chance of injury. Coaches should recognize this. However, a good physical fitness regime in training helps physical and mental endurance, and can reduce injuries.
- Make playing fun: That way players enjoy their game, and do not feel external pressure to push themselves too far.
We cannot forget, though, that soccer is a contact sport; one in which players push themselves to their physical and mental limits – injuries are therefore inevitable. All that a coach can do is mitigate against these by creating a professional training plan and remembering that common sense is an often undervalued asset!
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