FIFA aims to keep young soccer players safe

Date Published: 
June 27, 2014

Like so many of you, I am really caught up in the excitement surrounding soccer’s World Cup matches. Whether Team USA wins or loses, the spotlight on soccer and our team’s strong play has really energized soccer fever here at home. Of course, having Maryland’s Kyle Beckerman on the team adds to the excitement for all of us on Delmarva.

The popularity of soccer in the U.S. has grown tremendously, but so have injuries amongst young players. More than 99,000 youngsters were treated in emergency rooms for soccer injuries in 2012, which represents an increase of almost 20 percent in a five-year period.

The findings follow a 2010 clinical report that found soccer has a higher injury rate than all other contact sports, including football, and noted that players younger than 15 were at higher risk of injury.

More troubling is a report issued earlier this month by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The report is urging attention by trainers and coaches to injury-prevention training to combat the rise in soccer injuries, with ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) damage a significant concern. The report noted that girls’ soccer ranks No. 1 for ACL injury, with girls six times more apt to tear an ACL than boys.

What should you do to protect the soccer player at home? As always, it starts with being informed. Understanding the risks is an important first step, and that means knowing what is at stake.

Soccer puts a huge amount of stress on the knees and ankle joints. This pressure on the lower extremities means ligaments, tendons and muscles are at risk of injury in the course of practice, as well as during a game. Knees are where the ACL and MCL (medial collateral ligament), as well as the LCL (lateral collateral ligament), come into play.

Overuse injuries are a concern, as are concussions from heading the ball and collisions, which are causing serious injury, as well. In fact, barely two weeks ago, the American Medical Association called for a study of the long-term effects of heading in soccer because of the serious concern over resulting injuries.

Think about the pressure on extremities, the impact of blows and collisions, and what happens as a result of soccer practices and game play, which requires acceleration, deceleration and frequent changes of direction. Then, factor in the risk factors associated with how much your young athlete plays, how hard and how long the play lasts. It’s a lot to think about.

As a parent, the most important role you play is monitoring your soccer player and watching for injuries. We’ve talked a number of times about the problem parents have with kids who just want to play and will do anything to stay on the field. It’s important to be firm about the rules.

Injuries need the attention of a medical professional. Typically, X-rays and other scans, combined with a thorough examination, will allow your doctor to diagnose the nature of the injury and the course of treatment. Often, physical therapy is part of the healing process. Your doctor and physical therapist work closely together throughout the healing process, and they determine when your youngster can return to play.

There’s one more extremely important factor in keeping the soccer player in your house safe — injury-prevention training. In fact, that report from the American Academy of Pediatrics says trainers and coaches should be encouraging it. That’s where FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, has weighed in with an important program.

The “FIFA 11+” is a warm-up program that is designed to reduce injuries to male and female soccer players 14 or older. Developed by a distinguished group of internationally recognized experts, the program builds upon the body’s systems that act to naturally try to protect against injuries, with training to help the body become more injury-resistant.

Referred to as a complete warm-up program, it includes a variety of exercises that are done before every soccer practice and game. It is a three-part program that includes 15 exercises. Guidelines require the elements be performed in order so that they are effective.

There are different levels of difficulty within each element, and it is progressive, in that each soccer player performs the first level until they can complete it without difficulty in order to move to the next level.

The three parts include running exercises at slow speed with and without contact, exercises focused on balance, core strength and agility, and running exercises at a higher speed that include typical soccer moves, such as cutting and planting. The program requires the supervision of coaches to be sure that the player is performing the exercises properly.

“FIFA 11+” has been proven effective in a scientific study that demonstrated that teams performing the program at least twice a week had 30 to 50 percent fewer injured players during practice and matches. The study also showed that the program is easily implemented and requires virtually no equipment.

As I often tell you, it’s important for you and your kids to be active. Every sport has its risks of injury, so being prepared and making good choices about how you or your youngster prepare and having the right equipment and protective gear will make a huge difference.

One last thought: If you’ve been watching World Cup coverage, you know the matches haven’t been without controversy surrounding some questionable tactics that some teams’ players have been using. It’s always a good idea to remind your young athlete that playing safe and playing fairly is what makes you a real winner.

Bob Cairo is a licensed physical therapist at Tidewater Physical Therapy. He can be reached by calling (302) 537-7260.