By: Alicia Doolittle, DPT
As sports medicine physical therapists, we strive to return youth athletes to full participation in sports and recreational activities. We build strength, endurance, and improve balance, mobility, and neuromuscular control in order to return them safely to the field and reduce the risk of future injury. I believe that the most challenging part of any rehabilitation program occurs when our young athletes are ready to progress from basic therapeutic exercises to functional return to sport drills.
Despite our best efforts in the clinic, it is nearly impossible to effectively mimic the environment our patients will encounter during a game situation, or even at practice. In the clinic, athletes are able to focus their full attention on the task at hand. In a game situation, they must be aware of their own field position, the position of other players on both teams, location of the ball, and much more. Not to mention, positions of everyone and everything are constantly evolving.
My background as a soccer player who has battled injuries has made me realize that no matter how strong and fit you feel towards the end of rehab, it is important to incorporate ball skills, touch, accuracy, and control into your program prior to stepping out onto the pitch. If you can confidently feel and control the ball, with your head up, you are able to better split your attention and avoid “tunnel vision” during a game or practice. Furthermore, “incorporating the soccer ball and soccer-specific equipment (shoes)…is not only important to enhance soccer-specific neuromuscular stabilization strategies but also to promote a positive psychological attitude in rehabilitation.”
The following exercises, which incorporate a soccer ball, can be performed at home or in the clinic.
Single Leg Stance on foam with volleys:
Stand on one leg on a piece of foam (or folded up pillow). A partner throws the soccer ball to you and you volley the ball straight back to them with the inside of your foot 10 times. Repeat with instep. Perform with both right and left feet.
Soccer Vision Dance:
With your head up, look to the right/left/behind while you move around the ball in a circle with a skipping motion alternating feet on the ball. Repeat moving in the opposite direction. Try not to disturb the ball.
Roll and Catch:
Roll the ball toward the center of your body catching it with the opposite foot. Repeat with the opposite foot. Increase difficulty by adding 2 or 3 rolls before each catch. Try and pick your head up to improve your peripheral vision.
Start with the ball under your foot, straighten your leg and roll the ball away from you to the 1 o’clock position, then pull back at a slight angle while hopping on your stance leg. Work your way around the clock, finishing at the 12 o’clock position. Repeat with the opposite leg.
- Soccer Aerobic Conditioning: The Home Workout. Sacramento, CA: Soccerobics inc.; 1993.
- Bizzini M, Hancock D, Impellizzeri F. Suggestions From the Field for Return to Sports Participation Following Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction: Soccer. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2012;42(4):304-312. doi:10.2519/jospt.2012.4005.