Soccer Recovery Pop Quiz

Which of the following is the most important for the adolescent soccer player? You can only pick ONE.

A. Strength

B. Power

C. Flexibility

D. Stability

E. Speed

F. Agility

G. Recovery

aerial view of soccer field

Truth is, they are all important. However without one you risk the loss of all the others. RECOVERY could be the most important, because without it the player has significant increase in risk of injury. Is the risk worth it? With an injury all else is lost. The player cannot train and suffers decline in all other sport performance measures.

Recovery is especially important at this time of year when we have a mix of high school soccer and club soccer. The players are juggling the importance of two teams, vying for the starting position, and pushing themselves to make the playoffs while at the same time holding their status with the club team. This leads to competitive soccer 7 days a week where the players conveniently ignore the risk of over training and becoming injured for the gain of playing on 2 concurrent teams.

But what exactly is over training and how does recovery play into it? When you push muscles to exertion, there is micro trauma within them. Otherwise put, damage.This leads to soreness and stiffness after exercise. The damage is not a bad thing in and of itself. It’s a sign in the muscles have been put to the test. The body mounts a local inflammatory response and that reaction repairs the micro trauma and makes the muscles stronger so that doesn’t happen the next time. Problem is, the body needs time to fix the trauma. If the kids are playing 7 days per week there is no time to recover. That micro trauma then accumulates over time and gets worse and worse. Then one false move, one overreach, or one sprint too many pushes the body over the top and we start to see muscle and tendon overuse injuries. Or worse yet, if sufficient fatigue has kicked in then the player could sustain a more severe injury such as an ankle sprain or an ACL tear.

Time off sport

  • ACL tear: 9-12 months
  • Grade II ankle sprain: 6-12 weeks
  • Hamstring strain: 2 weeks to 3 months
  • Quad strain: 6 weeks
  • Inflammatory growth plate injuries: 2 weeks to months off
action athletes ball blur

Is that enough to catch your attention? You need to weigh the risk vs the benefit. Without knowing the risk, then your child might be in for a big surprise and go from playing 7 days per week to ZERO.

What can you do

This is an easy answer and does not take much to understand. REST. Rest is all the body needs. The players cannot sustain 7 days a week of competitive soccer without getting injured. Look for moments where your child can take at least one day per week to recover. If high intensity game play is occurring more than once per week, then 2 days of recovery should be considered.

Now that is not to say there are not things your child can do to expedite recovery, look for windows where it can be minimized, or prep themselves to require less overall recovery. These are more involved questions and will require more detailed thought.

Tools to expedite recovery

To ease soreness the body likes low impact light cardiovascular exercise to flush the muscles of the bi-product of exercise. 10-15 min on a stationary bike at low intensity, a light swim, or easy walk can help the process.

Massage is another excellent way to promote recovery in the muscles. However it is not cost effective nor appropriate for a minor to get weekly massages. In place of this, a simple foam roll for the cost of $20 could be used. There are lots of techniques to use the foam roll to massage the muscles and flush them of the inflammatory response from exercise.

Contrast baths with ice and heat or sequential pneumatic compression can also go a long way to assist the process.

Fatigue or load monitoring

This is a seldom used or incorrectly used concept. Most people look at external loads and try to base rest on that. The most common type of external load is time monitoring, ie. player X played 90 min of soccer. The problem with this is it does not take into consideration the intensity of play. 90 min of soccer in the league final is not the same as 90 min of practice (no matter how hard the coach tries to run the practice). So there has to be another consideration of load. This is called internal load. It is based on the BORG rating of perceived exertion or RPE. This is a scale from 6-20.

To find the total load the player simply multiplies the minutes of play (external load) by the average RPE (internal load) for that session. This is a simple calculation that the player can do and track their weekly loads. Over time patterns develop and the player can start to define what their tolerable levels are prior to requiring rest days.

New to the game is wearable tech. This is an exciting era we live in and there are many wearable tech companies that are focusing on ways to quantify internal loads by tracking GPS, HR, and touches on the ball. These are great but do not underestimate the power of the players own ability to monitor fatigue through the RPE scale.

Targeted training to decrease the time needed to recover?

This is the ultimate question and professional athletes all over the world are searching for this question. They have access to professional strength coaches, therapists, dietitians, and doctors. They get assessed and directed into an individual training program tailored to their needs that fluctuates throughout the year to get them to peak at season’s end. How can you get this level of service for your child?

Generic online programs help and are better than nothing, but leave much to be desired and are in no way specific to the athlete.

Professional intervention and guidance is the gold standard. This has traditionally been difficult, if not impossible, to find for the youth athlete. Strength coaches are around, but typically they are affiliated with a school or professional program and even then, they see so many athletes that they end up generating generic programs that don’t go much farther than what you can find online.

This is the space that PreventPT now occupies and conveniently offers to local Sonoma County residents in person or virtually to anyone worldwide. We utilize a unique assessment strategy that can be done virtually or in person to individually assess and develop exercise programs based on the findings that are specific to the individual’s needs. Once assessed we come up with a periodization program that tailors to the athletes ever changing needs throughout the year. Our goal is to prep the athletes body to minimize the risk of future injury while at the same time maximize performance. By following this program, sport specific fitness is maximized, poor movement patterns are addressed and the body recovers faster when pushed at a time of stress. The alternative is ignore the body’s little signals, push the player 7 days per week at high intensity, and suffer a significant increase in risk of catastrophic injury with time lost in sport.

If you would like to learn more about exercise programming based off an individual movement assessment by a doctor of physical therapy at a convenient time for you please reach out to us.

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