Prepare Their Ankles! Youth Soccer is More NASCAR, Less Drivers Ed

Getting over a sprained ankle? Got an ankle that always give you trouble? What do you do?

  • Doctors are good for diagnoses.
  • Surgeons are good for…surgery.
  • Physical therapists are good for… therapy.

All good. But you’re not done yet. To get back on the field again, you need to be performance-fit. Kids know performance. They know when they are back on their game and they know when it’s sub-par. That’s when I get ’em at Fit2Finish. It’s sports and it’s science. I know the game and I know what it demands. That’s what I look at when I look at the kids.

The Gap Between “released to play” and “good to go”

This weekend a young lady came to me about an ankle that had been chronically sprained. She’s a high school freshman, plays high level soccer for her club team and high school varsity. She had been going to her school athletic trainer who had prescribed resistive band exercises that she had been doing faithfully. Three ways: extension, internal and external rotation. (down, in and out) But the ankle just wasn’t feeling strong, and it wasn’t letting her move the way she needed to out on the field.

Well, the ankle is a fairly complicated joint. Soccer is a complex game, played in all the planes of motion. The textbook exercises she got from the trainer may get her back on the field, but the textbook doesn’t know performance. She does.

That’s what makes Fit2Finish more than a science; it’s an art. And a relational art at that. I know this kid. I know what she’s after. I know what she’s capable of. I know her dedication and her persistence. She’s a captain of her club team and for good reason. She’s not satisfied until this ankle works just like the other one. She needs functional exercises (movement challenge that makes demands like the sport does), not just sets of exercises in a couple planes of motion.

To avoid collisions on the athletic field, you don’t just need forward, backward, right or left. You need to be able to U-turn, slam on the breaks or swerve between the parked cars when absolutely necessary. Yep – that’s youth sports these days. More NASCAR, less Driver’s Ed. Less, stop to look both ways, and proceed when safe to do so. More, milk the accelerator and slip in and out of traffic the second you see your opportunity.

This athlete also needs self-sufficiency. She must know what to do, how to do it and be able to monitor her own progress. All this so she can tell when she’s getting stronger and more balanced and avoid over-doing it and heading back down the injury road.

Here’s her prescription for ankle strengthening
    • ankle up and downs on the field or on the stair at home (slowly with a hold at the top and the bottom – see video below)
    • challenge yourself to keep your balance
    • do it separately on both ankles
    • start with a few and add a few more
    • you’re finished with “rehab” when your “bad ankle” feels just like your good ankle
    • keep doing as part of practice for maintenance of strength and balance
Here’s what it looks like:

Get your athletes to do “ankle up and downs” at the beginning of practice. (20 or so) Partner up. Have them count for each other, and insist on full range of motion and holding at the “top” for a count of 1-2. Notice the wobble. Then build their strength so they can control this, even when there’s a bit of a shove.

Because that’s the game. The player who keeps her footing wins – the ball and usually the game. Because it’s a whole lot easier to score when you have the ball.

Next up on the blog: a game I call hop and shove. Take your dynamic ankle strengthening to the next level.

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