There are many movements that we see in competition, that we don’t see much of in scrimmage, and we rarely see in practice. Some of these movements have high injury rates such as colliding with a player during a “full on” header, or the dreaded contact during a full speed “50-50” ball. I wonder to myself sometimes … are we doing enough to develop players to deal with these circumstances both safely and effectively?
Physical literacy is a relatively new concept and has been championed by Dr. Margaret Whitehead out of the United Kingdom. Her website contains plenty of background on its history. Just like the United Nations wants every person in the world to be literate (read and write), the basic premise behind the physical literacy movement is that all people should have the proficiency in movement skills, and confidence to use them to participate in physically active leisure time pursuits. Great idea! As a bit of a digression I have to say that I have observed that “the more literate a society becomes, the more physically illiterate it becomes”. But what does physical literacy have to do with soccer?
When you take a look at soccer, we certainly have drills that develop many fundamental movement skills in players. I dare say we do this very well in young men, and just ok to poorly in young women (this is another topic altogether!). What we lack in football are drills that develop proficiency in skills like collision avoidance, stumble recovery after collision, safe falling and sliding, fall recovery, landing from a leap after collision (two up for a header), etc. When you look at a sport like Judo, everyone wants to learn how to toss the other person. BUT no judo coach will teach you how to do a throw a person without first teaching you how to fall. I think we in soccer can take a lesson from judo.
Over 70 percent of soccer athletes are injured “in competition” with a vast majority during contact with another player. We need to address this. At the higher levels of soccer, players are assets and people (hopefully people first). Protection of the player and the team asset is critical to team success.
Developing comprehensive physical literacy in the soccer player may be the key.
I propose that we look at our game footage and take an inventory of skills that are NOT being drilled but are executed on the field of play. Then we use basic exercise and coaching science principles to develop training programs to become proficient at these skills out of the competition setting – in practice. We all know it takes hundreds of training hours to become proficient at a skill – it is actually said that it takes 10,000 hours to make an Olympic Champion. This means that without repetition there is no learning – no skill acquisition. We should not leave skill acquisition to game day!
Many years ago, I added core exercise to help athletes not be pushed off the ball, run faster, have better throw ins, etc. Just a few years ago I started to add drills which progressed collisions and full contact movement with other players. I just started teaching athletes “how to take a fall”. NO not how to draw a yellow card, but actually how to fall and not get injured. We just started drills to teach players how to collide for a header and land safely. I would love to hear from you if you use drills to develop this type of physical literacy.
Every player should have a full movement vocabulary – the set of skills necessary to succeed in the sport. We as coaches and exercise professionals have an opportunity to not only reduce injuries with this type of physical literacy approach, but also add to the beauty of the game by developing confident players with a comprehensive range of proficient skills.
I think the Physical Literacy movement has something to it. I am definitely on the band wagon. It is worth a look.
Other physical literacy resources:
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