28 Dec Middle School Female Soccer Players: When It’s Too Much
In 11 years of coaching young female soccer players, I continue to be flabbergasted by how many messages I get from parents about their daughters’ overuse injuries.
“Our daughter has had knee pain for several months,” say several concerned parents.
“Our daughter has a stress fracture,” say several more.
It’s the same conversation over and over again. I’ve had it hundreds of times. And it doesn’t get easier. It cuts deeper each time.
I reply with the gut wrenching question, “how much soccer is your daughter playing?”
Although I already know the answer, I ask anyway. I want parents to say it out loud, and hear how ridiculous it all sounds for their young girl, who is 10-13 years-old, on the cusp of puberty and her most rapid period of growth, to be playing this much of a single sport.
“Well, she practices 3-4 times a week, plays for her club and middle school team, and has games on the weekend, and this continues in the Summer,” parents say.
I pause and don’t reply.
Parent admits, “it’s too much.”
The Over-trained, Under-prepared Epidemic
Young female soccer players are over-trained and under-prepared. The ratio of sport specific work overpowers strength and speed preparation work.
They’re on the ball several hours a week, overusing the same muscle groups, doing a ton of decelerating, and repetitive shooting, passing and cutting movements. Worse yet, they’re in the weight room 0-1 hours a week. Their bodies aren’t given enough of a stimulus to truly get stronger, and become resilient athletes.
Muscles break down and never get a chance to build up.
Adding to the disaster, these girls are in the middle of their growth spurts, with the length of their muscles, tendons and bones changing. For starters, their bone mineral density isn’t filled in enough yet, and the repetitive nature of the same movements in soccer are not enough to stimulate a strong bone. They actually break it down.
Expounding further, girls get their menstrual cycle during this time, so proper recovery from sport is critical for hormonal balance and injury reduction. Certain phases of the menstrual cycle can increase fatigue and disrupt sleep, so taking time to rest the nervous system is massively beneficial for the female athlete.
Knee pain also hasn’t subsided because changing direction, cutting, and jumping in soccer is tensing up the quad muscle, causing wear and tear on the patella tendon. There is also no higher stimulus of hamstring, gluteal and quadricep strengthening in the gym. These are all muscles that safeguard the knee, and building them up is being brushed under the rug. Skills training replaces resistance training, and the endless hamster wheel from practice to practice leaves us with strength as the last priority.
When will we stop running our girls through a scholarship factory of year-round soccer, and when will we take action to actually build a robust, empowered athlete?
When It’s Too Much
It’s too much when more hours are spent in soccer, than in preparation.
It’s too much when a female athlete is rushing from one soccer practice to the next.
It’s too much when the joys of childhood and free play are halted.
It’s too much when overuse injuries linger and pain hasn’t subsided.
It’s time for something to give, and for soccer load to be cut out of the schedule. Sure, she may love playing, but short term gratification shouldn’t be the focus. A female soccer player’s long-term career must be considered, and her physical health and mental health must be a priority.
Over 10 hours of soccer a week to 0-1 hours of strength is not an ideal ratio. There needs to be a buffer, more balance of the two.
Einstein said it perfectly: “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
Girls are kept in soccer over 10 months of the year, and they wonder why overuse has lingered, or even, their speed and athleticism have waned. (check out this podcast on true speed training and long-term athletic development).
I promise that taking a few months to pump the brakes on organized soccer to get stronger and faster won’t make a girl fall behind.I promise that taking a few months to pump the brakes on organized soccer to get stronger and faster won't make a girl fall behind. Click To Tweet
In fact, she will come back to the game the opposite: beaming with energy and motivation. She will have a newfound physical prowess, increased strength, and bolting speed. Instead of falling behind, she will surpass everyone.
Dare to be different.
Take the narrow gate.
Be counter cultural.
Blaze your own trail.
Go against the mainstream.
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