Save the Ankles! Make Strengthening into Dynamic and Fun Fitness

When my girls were small, they deferred to the other player. “Here, you want the ball for a while?” their body language would say. It drove me nuts. Where was there competitiveness? their assertiveness? their drive? They were just too polite for their own good. I was sure I was a coaching failure. Until we played other teams full of girls who did the same thing. Boys did not have this problem; they’d muscle you off the ball, knock you on your butt, whatever it took to get the ball. Not my girls. They shared.

Sharing and diplomacy will get you far in lots of things, but not on the soccer field. There, you have to stand your ground. And that takes strength and balance. (For static balance and ankle strengthening see Prepare Their Ankles) Often, you must control the ball with one foot and stabilize yourself against the oncoming challenge balanced on the other.

“Hop and Shove” is a great game to practice random (but controlled) collisions sustained on that one-footed, but agile, stance.

Here’s how it looks with a bunch of fun-loving but very capable U15 WAGS Division I players:

Hop and Shove Game

Cue them:

  • right or left foot
  • to challenge (fairly) with the shoulder as if you’re challenging for the ball
  • then, let ’em loose.

Keep time for 20-30 seconds and then have them switch feet. Repeated sets will provide a muscular endurance challenge and an anaerobic workout at the same time. The kids will be having so much fun, they won’t notice. Plus, it’s strengthening their ankles against sprains.

You may want to put out some cones to define the hopping space, but they usually pay no attention to these. Just keep a handle on the full-body spearing that sometimes gets going, especially among those boys. Deferring to the other player rarely comes naturally to them.

And polite on the soccer field? I think that went out at U9 when  my girls hit the ranks of travel soccer. Now they’re strong when they need to be and agile when they want to be. Because that ball belongs to them.

Try out hop and shove and let me know how it goes with your team. Soccer, basketball, football, lacrosse, rugby, ultimate Frisbee …anything you play where two players try to share the same space at the same time. Good fun.

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