The Benefits of Playing Soccer
If you’ve driven anywhere in Frisco on a weekend morning, chances are you’ve seen the packed soccer fields, gotten stuck in pre and post soccer match traffic, or have spent your weekend mornings cheering on your son or daughter as they’ve stormed the pitch. Youth soccer in North Texas is booming and is providing a great atmosphere for development of our young athletes. Numerous publications highlight the benefits of playing soccer including physical and physiological improvements, as well as social and life skills development.
Physical and Physiological Benefits
Soccer can be of great benefit to people of all ages in improving health-related quality of life. Participation in soccer has the potential to improve aerobic capacity and cardiovascular health. Few sports match the sustained aerobic activity that is involved in playing soccer. Players may cover up to 7.5 miles during a match, consisting on average of 24% walking, 36% jogging, 20% coursing, 11% sprinting, 7% moving backwards, and 2% moving while in possession of the ball (5). All this high intensity movement leads to an average heart rate of 80-90% of maximum which builds great aerobic capacity in players (6).
Ball handling in soccer requires whole body coordination to remain balanced and in control of the ball. This activity develops motor skills that young players are able to apply in their other sport activities. The quick directional changes and footwork required in soccer also works to develop a higher level of agility.
Youth sports, including soccer, also afford the opportunity for an introduction into strength training. Often perceived as an adult exercise activity, strength training can be used to effectively improve the health of children and youth athletes (2). Children are capable of making voluntary strength gains (3). Implementing strength training that includes resistance training and plyometric programs for children and youth may help to: increase bone mineral density, improve body composition, increase lean muscle ratio, increase muscle mass, improve self-confidence, decrease sedentary behavior, and decrease risk of becoming overweight or obese as an adult. Through organized strength training programs, children and youth have the opportunity to make short-term gains in health and establish lifelong positive health outcomes (2). The most important factors in the choice of exercise are that the child fits the equipment, and that the skill and the technique required to perform the exercises are properly taught, and exercises are chosen to include major muscle groups, working both agonist and antagonist muscles of the joint (3). In addition to an introduction to strength training, the act of playing soccer itself develops upper and lower body muscles with a particular emphasis on lower body and core strength. Shielding an opponent utilizes upper body strength while kicking a ball utilizes muscles from the feet to the neck (1). Kicking a soccer ball requires strong core muscles to provide a solid foundation for the kicking leg. The core muscles that are developed include pelvic, abdominal, spine and shoulder girdle muscles. Though research shows a clear correlation between sprinting and leg strength, one only has to look at the muscularity developed in professional soccer players’ legs to understand the strength that is built playing soccer (4). With age appropriate and modified strength training exercises, strength training programs for children provide additional leisure opportunities to encourage healthy, active lifestyles.
Social and Life Skills Benefits
Participating in sports as a youth allows you to lay a foundation of values that will help in other aspects of your life. Soccer requires a large amount of communication and teamwork skills. These skills will prepare players to be able to converse with precision and tact. In their future careers, there is going to be a need for communication. Having to work closely with others to help achieve a common goal can be a humbling and trying experience. Through the team setting, players will be able to experience the need for working with others and begin attaining a sense of autonomy. Goal setting in any situation requires discipline. The participating athlete is taught to take responsibility for their role on the team. Being able to adjust to different roles is a skill that will help the next generation be able to practice balance in life. Since there are chances to try out new things, the child will likely be better at making adjustments to the demands placed on them. Each player has strengths and weaknesses that have the potential to help the team reach their goals. Finding a place that they enjoy and ‘fit’ can improve self-confidence. Through this experience, we can teach our youth that each of us has different things that we are good at, and there is a benefit to the differences between individuals that are willing to work together. As an adult, they will be required to follow a schedule and prioritize tasks during their daily lives. Engaging in a youth soccer program will present parents with an opportunity to teach their children about the importance of a schedule and balancing work obligations with the things that they want to do with their free-time (7, 8).
2. Fleming, K.M. & Cavanagh, F.E. (2012). Encouraging leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) participation in children and youth: The use of strength training programmes to improve health. African Journal for Physical, Health Education, Recreation and Dance,December 2012(Supplement 3), 76-85.
3. Kraemer W, Fry A, Frykman P, Conroy B, Hoffman J. Resistance Training and Youth. Pediatric Exercise Science [serial online]. November 1989;1(4):336-350. Available from: SPORTDiscus with Full Text, Ipswich, MA. Accessed April 10, 2017.
4. Muscle Strength and Speed Performance in Youth Soccer Players.
Peñailillo L1, Espíldora F1, Jannas-Vela S1, Mujika I2, Zbinden-Foncea H1.
5. Reilly T . Physiological profile of the player. In: Ekblom B, ed. Football (soccer). London: Blackwell, 1994:789
6. Reilly T (ed) (1996) Science and Soccer. Chapman & Hall,
Trey Kunz, PT, DPT, ATC, CSCS
Trey is a physical therapist and athletic trainer working at EXOS in Frisco, TX. He enjoys working with athletes and patients from youth to professional, and everything in between.
*Contributing Authors: Jared Whitmire, MEd, CES, PES, University of Texas at Arlington and Scott Vandenbergh, SPT, University of Missouri