Injury Prevention and Recovery Advice for Coaches, Parents and Players
John Gallucci Jr., MLS Medical Coordinator and GoalNation columnist offers regular columns on Injury Prevention and Treatment.
A dynamic expert in injury prevention, rehabilitation, sports medicine and athletic conditioning, John Gallucci Jr. is the Medical Coordinator for Major League Soccer (MLS), overseeing the medical care of 600 professional soccer players.
Gallucci is the former Head Trainer of the New York Red Bulls MLS team and is a Sports Medicine consultant for professional athletes in the NHL, NFL, NBA, MLB, and USA Wrestling. Gallucci, Jr. is also President of JAG Physical Therapy & JAG Pediatric Therapy.
Well the summer is over and fall soccer has kicked off all over the country. The tournament season is over and now pre-season has begun for all levels of soccer. Just as youth soccer action kicks off on fields all across the USA, it is time to realize that if we want to develop world class players like Ronaldo or Messi, we must take better care our youth players today.
It is my recommendation that we start to care for our youth athletes, just like we care for our professional athletes.
Let it be that you are in a youth soccer association, club team, academy team, high school or college; whatever you may play, the fall season has started. As you know, some coaches like to do two-a-days, runs and then a full practice, strength and conditioning and then practice, and unfortunately, some coaches like to have three practices in a day.
Hopefully, we have learned over the years that if they are doing two practices in a day there are different things that they are working on. You can’t expect an athlete to participate in a full two-hour practice, twice a day and be able to recover as quickly for the next day.
It is important for us to know that as parents and coaches, when we are looking at the development of a soccer player (the physiological changes), we need to understand that during the summer months the athlete has not really done much. If we bring them in the first two to four days and beat them down, the muscles will end up bleeding and swelling which will cause stiffness and tightness.
Usually, if the athlete gets pushed too hard back-to-back, it will cause micro fibrous tears in the musculoskeletal system that can ultimately cause tendonitis, tearing of the muscles, or muscles strains. It is important that as coaches and parents, we understand with pre-season upon us, that a slow easy progression to full-go is the most important thing, especially if the athlete has not done anything all summer.
As parents, every week we look at the professionals, and those professionals are constantly being taken care of by a team of medical professionals that usually encompass team physicians, anything from orthopedic specialists, pulmonary specialists, cardiac specialists, to sports medicine specialists.
They have physical therapists, certified athletic trainers, nutritionists, exercise physiologists, performance coaches, and massage therapists that work as a group to maintain the healthcare of these professional athletes.
When a professional athlete sustains an injury, there is usually a timeline put on that athlete to recover, and that entire team of medical professionals works together to give the athlete the best opportunity to heal, recover, go through the appropriate return-to-play protocol and make sure this athlete is ready to go.
During that process there is a rest period, there’s an opportunity to get the muscles and joints to work in a full range of motion, there’s a strengthening process, there’s an elasticity process, and finally a return-to-play plan to bring the athlete back to the soccer field at 100%.
When we look at our youth programs, college programs, club programs, and academy programs, each soccer level has their own individuality of what type of healthcare you can possibly get. If we look at the club teams and academy teams, usually parents and coaches are relying on local medical professionals, such as physical therapists, certified athletic trainers and physicians, and sometimes emergency rooms to care for the athletes.
As we go into high school and college, we have certified athletic trainers that are on-site all the time to basically assist in the diagnosis and prognosis. We forget about the athlete being able to heal appropriately, because we are putting so much pressure to get the athlete back on the field as quickly as possible.
If we push the athlete too quickly, usually they have the possibility of sustaining a second injury or make their current injury worse which will keep them off the field for a longer period of time.
Numerous times throughout preseason we hear about our soccer athletes getting tendonitis. Anyone can Google tendonitis and one of the first remedies that it says to assist in tendonitis is rest. But yet at the youth level, we refuse to pull back the athlete and keep making them push through to get them on the field.
If this athlete was with our US federation teams, or at a professional level, they would be resting. They would be taken out of the game, resting, and then put through the appropriate physical therapy care, before they are taken to a performance coach who ultimately prepares them to return to the field. Just as we take care of our professional athletes, we need to take care of our youth athletes, because someday we want them to have the same opportunity of possibly playing at the professional level.
A great example would be Alex Morgan, US WNT Forward who was out resting for about 7 weeks to rehabilitate from a left ankle sprain.
We need to take care of them to get back to the field, and making sure that they are having a good time. Basically the goal is to keep them fit, healthy, have good social elements, and ultimately enjoy the game while keeping them safe.