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  • The Making of an Elite Soccer Player

    by Guest Blogger | Aug 09, 2016

    By: Jesse Fudge, M.D.

    From August 5 through August 22, the ACSM Sports Performance Blog is featuring a special content series in celebration of the achievements of elite athletes participating in international competition. Be sure to follow the blog as well as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (acsm1954) and share using #ScienceofSport.

    After four years, it’s finally here! Having grown up playing soccer, with Mia Hamm as my idol, I watched those athletes every game.   I wanted to be them, and still do!

    I was never close to reaching an elite level of soccer, but I enjoyed playing the sport through college, medical school and residency. While I had a few broken bones and ankle sprains, I never had a major soccer knee injury.

    I credit this mostly to being a multisport athlete. Not specializing early in life encourages development of a broader range of skills and develops different muscles. Ultimately, being a multisport athlete decreases injuries and “burnout” which is critical for making a career of your favorite sport later in life. It seems that the US Women soccer players agree. After interviewing the Women’s National Team during the 2015 World Cup, a USA Today reporter noted that most players were multisport athletes before specializing in soccer and they credited those other sports to their soccer success.  Some important quotes from this article:

    • Lauren Holiday: “Having that variety is an awesome thing and I would encourage any young athlete or parent not to restrict themselves.” Doing different things develops different parts of your body. It can help prevent injuries and definitely help prevent burnout.
    • Whitney Engen: “You might not realize that what you’re doing in volleyball is improving your spatial awareness and communication, but in reality maybe it is.”
    • Abby Wambach (Retired): “Having the ability to play basketball for a bit throughout the year gave me the chance to crave soccer, to miss it.” Playing basketball had a significant impact on the way I play the game of soccer. In basketball, I was a power forward and I would go up and rebound the ball. So learning the timing of your jump, learning the trajectory of the ball coming off the rim, all those things play a massive role.”

    One injury that can end an elite athlete’s dream is an ACL tear. The hip and core strength I developed through nordic skiing, likely helped me prevent ACL tears and other significant knee injuries. Unfortunately, cross training and participating in multiple sports does not always prevent injury. Some who had hoped to recover from ACL tears before competing this summer, but didn’t, were disappointed.  Studies suggest that the most important aspect in ACL injury prevention is good neuromuscular control.  The good news is that this can be trained and ACL injuries can be prevented!

    The most recent American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Team Physician Consensus Statement identifies multiple areas to focus on for ACL prevention and recommends implementing a sport-specific conditioning program. This should include:

    1. Motor control (including core and lower extremity strength, balance, and flexibility
    2. Technique training to include landing and sport-specific athletic skills program
    3. Risk awareness education

    Good programs to start your young soccer (or other sport) star with include:

    So, how do you become an elite Soccer Player?  Have fun and maintain a good variety of other activities to prevent burnout and improve your chances of staying injury free.

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