Goal! Soccer is a popular sport for school-aged kids and teens! Soccer can also be tough on the body. As with any sport, soccer can lead to overuse injuries—or injuries that come from doing too much of the same activity over time. (Think: shin splints with running or elbow injuries with baseball.) 

How can soccer players avoid injury as their bodies grow and develop? Connecticut Children’s Sports Exercise Technologist, Adel Lolic, MS, shares tips.

1. Don’t skip warm-ups

Skipping warm-ups is a common training mistake that can lead to bad habits and bigger problems down the road.

In our experience, soccer players shortcut their warm-ups or skip them all together for a few reasons:

  • Time constraints or scheduling issues
  • Lack of training in proper warm-up drills
  • The temptation to just jump right into the game or practice

Why are warm-ups so important for soccer?

They help prep the body for training and gradually bring it up to game speed—this combination helps to reduce the risk of injury. 

>Related: Is There a Best Way for Young Athletes to Warm Up for Sports?

2. Don’t skip the cool-down, either.

Here’s what a good cool-down looks like after a training session or game:

  • Slowly reduce physical activity, then;
  • Stretch in place or try foam rolling, a technique that improves muscle flexibility and movement.

A cool-down is a fantastic opportunity to:

  • Stretch out the body while still warm, and hopefully improve flexibility.
  • Scan the body for any injuries or bruises.
  • Evaluate their performance, go over what they learned during play and unwind—an overall good mental exercise.  

>Related: The 7 Rules of Sports Injury Prevention for Kids, Teens and Young Athletes

3. Fuel up before practice or play

Soccer is a very energy-demanding sport! Players should fuel up properly before practice or game time. That means eating within two to three hours of getting on the field.  Because soccer is tiring with all the running and cutting (using the inside and outside of the foot to turn quickly), it’s important for players to eat plenty of foods rich in carbohydrates—like bananas or peanut butter sandwiches.

Related: 4 Nutrition Tips for Athletes to Feel and Perform Their Best

4. Drink plenty of water, too.

Good hydration should be a year ’round practice and is especially important during soccer training in the heat. Hot temperatures and intense physical exercise can cause the body to lose a lot of fluid in the form of sweat. That’s why soccer players should drink plenty of water before practice and every 15 to 20 minutes during practice to stay well hydrated. Water is always, always the best option to stay hydrated.

5. Have an annual training plan

So your athlete can make the most out of their soccer training, encourage them to plot out their year. They should factor in their high school season, club season, any camps, clinics, showcases and other sports they might play.

It’s also important for them to commit to a dedicated off-season, where they take a break from all formal practices and focus on recovery or other activities. Younger soccer players don’t have the same physical or mental ability as older, more experienced players, so they need more frequent breaks and rest. Often times younger athletes are over worked from year-round training, and don’t have enough time to recover.

6. Gradually return to sports

After a break from regular practice after vacation, injury or a planned break, it’s best to start practice slow and steady, then gradually work back up to peak performance.  Even if your child has been physically active in other ways, they should still take this approach with sports to avoid unnecessary soreness, injury and fatigue. An aggressive return to high-intensity training has risks, and jeopardizes your child’s long-term athletic development or sports season.

7. Consider an injury prevention sports performance training program

There are many evidence-based injury prevention programs available to help your child reduce their risk of injury, and improve sports performance. For example:

  • Connecticut Children’s Sports Physical Therapy offers an evidence-based injury prevention program. We have partnered with our local partner Farmington Sports Arena Football Club (FSA FC), to help athletes remain injury free and perform at their best. Our program is designed to improve athletic performance and reduce risk of injury by focusing on proper landing techniques during training.
  • FIFA 11 is designed to serve as a warm-up before practice to help reduce the risk of knee injuries. The program emphasizes proper technique and targeting undertrained muscles in soccer players.

8. Address current injuries, pain or limitation

If your child has pain with soccer practice, consider visiting a sports medicine specialist who can help you figure out the best solution for your family. If your child does not have any injuries or pain, but is limited in their soccer practice by lack of fitness, strength or flexibility, a sports performance assessment with one of Connecticut Children’s Sports Exercise Technologists may help. Our team has worked with thousands of local soccer players over the last five years to improve performance with evidence-based training programs.

Remember, balance is key when it comes to success on the soccer field. But practice and training are more effective when rest is in the mix, too.