Girl’s Soccer and ACL Injuries

 

With girls soccer season right around the corner, I wanted to take time to address an issue that females are at a risk for, especially in soccer. My intent is not to scare, but instead lay out the facts and combat that with quality coaching, education and ample opportunities to move.

Before I get started, I want to tell a quick story about when I was an assistant coach for a mens basketball team. This story is aimed at the varsity girls team, who played their game before the mens team. So I got to watch most of their games. I recall one season the varsity girls had five girls go down with an ACL injury. This was tough to see, at one point I believe two girls went down in the same game. After asking around, the girls never had any serious training regimen before/during/after season in the weight room. Being a strength coach, I believe this could have been minimized or even non existent if a proper preventive program was introduced.

Ok, now the facts. Research has suggested that the number of ACL injuries in female athletes is 3-6 times higher than their male counterparts. It also has been suggested that a majority of ACL injuries are non contact in nature. Meaning, it happens either when changing directions or landing. There have been different theories as to why females are at a higher risk. These theories include, anatomical differences, hormonal changes and neuromuscular deficiencies.

The theory I want to focus on is neuromuscular deficiencies, which I am able to alter in an athlete more so than the anatomical/hormonal makeup. I can alter this by assessing a female athlete for any deficiencies and then implementing a strength program. Simple, you say? Well the key is in the assessment process. During this process, I am looking for deficiencies that can be contributed to females being ligament, quadricep, leg, and/or trunk dominant. Don’t know what those mean? No worries, let me break it down. When I refer an athlete to being ligament dominant, it means the athlete is using the ligaments around the knee rather than engaging the entire musculature of the leg to help control any type of sport movement. For example, landing, cutting, stopping, and starting. This can be easily fixed with some coaching cues on mechanics. The next three can all be fixed by consistent strength training and good program design. We have female athletes who are quadricep dominant. This refers to an imbalance from the muscles being stronger on the anterior (quadriceps) part of the leg, than the posture of the leg (hamstrings). Next one refers to an imbalance of strength, coordination and balance form one leg to the other. Last one, trunk dominant refers to the inability to control inertial forces of the body, due to weakness in the truck/core muscles. Essentially not being able to control upper and lower body together when moving. These deficiencies can all be fixed with proper coaching, education and consistent strength training.

In regards to teaching mechanics, let’s continue to focus on soccer. In soccer, there is a ton of movement going on. A lot of directional changes, decelerating/accelerating, and jumping/landing. In all these movements, if the athlete can learn how to absorb forces and show quality landing/cutting mechanics, this will keep the athlete healthy and on the field. Our goal, when training our youth is to teach proper mechanics from the beginning and give ample opportunities to move. Here are some important things we cover about landing and changing directions with our athletes. You might be asking, why just landing and change of directions? Well, as I stated earlier, this is when most non contact ACL injuries occur.

1) When landing, we encourage a “stiff” landing with a bend from the hips and knees. This allows the hamstrings to assist in stabilizing the knee.
2) Also when landing, we want proper knee alignment. Meaning, we don’t want to see the knees buckle inwards when landing double/single leg.
3) When decelerating to change direction or to slow down, we encourage athletes to get hips low with hips and knees flexed, foot outside the box with feet flat to the ground. This helps the athlete stay in control and puts the body in the best position to change directions.
4) Also when decelerating, instead of one big step to change directions, we focus on smaller, “choppier” steps. This helps minimize the athlete reaching and possibly not getting enough contact with the ground to push off in a new direction.

 

On top of teaching proper landing and change of direction mechanics, we want to focus on other plyometric exercises, strength and balance training. All these aspects make for a solid ACL preventative program. Remember train smart and play smart.

If you’d like your athlete to be part of a training program run by professionals who have studied this subject in depth and have thousands of hours of experience preventing ACL injuries, check out one of our upcoming speed camps here!

Strength Coach,
Silas Perreault BS, NSCA-CSCS, YFS-1, USAW1

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reference:

Timothy D. Macaluso, MS, MBA, CSCS.
Anterior cruciate ligament injury prevention for female high school athletes. Strength and Conditioning Journal: Vol 34 (5): 56-59, October 2012.