They're not completely avoidable, but you can reduce the risks with some common sense and discipline

As the high school soccer season winds down and the Section V tournaents begin, do you find yourself feeling like your son or daughter’s team suffered from too many injuries this season?  

A team that started the season with 22 players, finds itself eight-weeks later limping into sectionals with only 15 or 16 fully healthy players. Sure, you can chalk it up to the fact that soccer is such a “physical game” or how “hard” the players play. Most injuries sustained on the field are just unlucky, anyways.  

How can someone really prevent a player from getting injured?  It’s not like it’s a science … or is it?

Does your player get enough sleep? Late-night practices, homework, and cell phones all negatively impact the amount of sleep a high school player gets. But know this: A player who only gets 6 hours of sleep each night has a 72% chance of sustaining a serious injury on the soccer field. 

That number drops to 35% just by getting an extra two hours of sleep each night (8 hours).  So the next time your child wants to send one more text before bed, remind him/her of this statistic.

Coaching to Prevent Injuries. There are dozens of injury-prevention type exercises and warm-ups on the Internet. FIFA released one called FIFA 11+ to help reduce injuries up to 50%. Does your son or daughter’s coach incorporate these regularly into their training sessions?  

Stop all the games, and let the players recover! The U.S. Soccer Federation states that professional soccer players need 72-hours after a match for their bodies to fully recover. At the World Cup, teams are given 4-5 days in between matches.  

How often is your youth athlete given a full 72-hours to recover in between games? And, why is it expected that an amateur athlete’s body can recover quicker than a professional athlete’s body? While the number of games played is out of your player’s control, does your son or daughter’s coach know how to handle such a grueling schedule with your child’s safety in mind?

Schedule Perodization. At the high school level, there are very few (if any) days off. 

The schedule is crammed with scrimmages, games, and practices from mid-August to mid-October. Just as the number of games and the limited amount of recovery time can affect a player’s risk for injury, so can the number of practices and the intensity level of each practice.  

A common misconception is that in order to be “game-ready,” players need to be pushed hard at practice the day before a game, however, this is incorrect. A practice before or after a game-day should always be LOW intensity, allowing player’s bodies to rest and fully heal. It’s called periodization.  

Before the season starts, a good coach will look at his entire schedule and be able to tell which days he can push his players hard, and which days he can’t. Typically, you will never have a high-intensity practice before a game, after a game, or after a single day or multiple days off. The day after a game, my JV team will show up to practice without shin guards on, knowing that for their safety, I cannot have a full-contact, high-intensity practice. 

As a coach, I appreciate this. Even though I would love to run a grueling training session, the girls are looking out for their own health and safety. If they stand up to me, maybe they’ll stand up to the next coach who tries to run them into the ground the day before an important game!

While injury prevention may not be an exact science, decreasing the risks of an injury is and should be practiced by all youth coaches.

McConnell, a graduate of Aquinas, is a certified USSF coach and currently coaches the Bloomfield girls junior varsity team and club soccer in Victor. He runs WNY Soccer Assist (