Growing up, before I truly understood the importance of taking care of my body as an athlete, I struggled a lot with niggling injuries like, shin splints, twisted ankles…etc. Season after season, I would begin the season with these awful shin splints that would never go away until half way through the season. You would think I would be smart enough to look into how to prevent them, but nope! I did not. I eventually learned, but not after I torn my hamstring during my senior year of high school and spent my first year of college soccer on the treatment table. Preventing injuries is always better than treating them. So, here are few ways you get through the season injuries free and achieve your goals.
Go into the season fit!
I cannot stress this enough; fitness is the key factor to success as a soccer player. If I could go back, I would have taken my fitness seriously during my soccer career. What you do before the season, will be what you get during the season. It’s normal for players to get lazy during the off season and lose their fitness, but I highly recommend that you try to maintain your fitness during the off season and slowly work your way back to full fitness as the season nears. Being fit and staying fit will not only help you prevent injuries, but it will also help you focus more on your playing than on your fitness. When you are fit, you are more mentally prepared, you have more time to work on skills and you will do more in the game.
Listen to your body!
Days leading up to me tearing my hamstring, I felt the tightness in the back on my thigh, but I didn’t think much of it. I was out of shape coming into preseason so, I was pushing myself to get fit and I didn’t have the time for any soreness. I didn’t want to hear what my body had to say, I needed my body to get with the program. Well, my body won! Many youth athletes do not listen to their body. When you’re young you feel invincible and soreness or tightness is just an annoyance. Part of preventing an injury is sensing where and when something might go wrong. Before you pull or tear your hamstring, you would feel some tightness and soreness in the back of your thigh. That’s a warning! Stop and listen. Whenever you feel a discomfort on any part of your body, ask yourself why and look into it. Do not ignore it.
My hamstring took a while to “heal” and I put healed in quotation because, it actually never healed. It got better enough for me to play and I went to play! I didn’t give it enough time to fully recover and now, my hamstring is permanently damaged. It is very important to take as long as you need to recover from any soreness, tightness or injuries you may have. Recovering also means to rest and relax after practices or games and ice anything that feels funny or uncomfortable. Don’t get back on the field until you feel at 100%!
I didn’t understand the importance of stretching until I have damaged every part of my body, but stretching is everything! You need to stretch as bad as you need to drink water, it’s that serious. Had I taken the time to properly stretch when I felt the soreness in my hamstring I believe I could have avoided my injury. Stretch before and after every activity, stretch when you wake up, stretch after you have been seating for a while, stretch whenever the thought of stretching comes to mind. Stretching reduces soreness and keeps the muscles flexible.
Though, I have put hydration last, it comes before everything else. As an athlete, you should literally have a bottle of water with you at all times. When you’re well hydrated your body stays fresh and you avoid those annoying cramps.
Of course, I am not a trained doctor, but I have been an athlete all my life and I have suffered an injury or two that have taught me something about taking care of your body as an athlete. Along the way with the help of some great trainers, I learned the importance of taking care of myself and getting the best out of my body. Here is my final piece of advice, take care of your body and it will take a good care of you!
Kokou Assigbe, Coaching Director at World Class Premier