How much playing is too much?

Discussion in 'Youth & HS Soccer' started by Fuegofan, Apr 5, 2021.

  1. Fuegofan

    Fuegofan Member

    Feb 17, 2001
    I've had this question running around in my head for awhile. On the one hand, it's well known that in the U.S. our kids generally don't get nearly as much playing time as kids in other parts of the world. Reasons for this are diverse, but think the biggest reason is just that soccer isn't often the schoolyard or park sport of choice for pickup games. So in order to make up for this, many parents have their kids practicing as much as possible with their clubs. And the parents, paying good money, expect the kids to be coached while with their clubs. I've heard complaints that this results in over-coached players, a lack of creativity, burnout, and overuse injuries. And now the soccer tourism + club industry is so big that a player in many areas of the country can play 12 months a year, 4 evenings a week, and several games on the weekends. A lot of parents will encourage their kids to do other sports, to varying degrees, in order to give their kids some balance. And I've heard everything from, "yeah, I only allow my player to play club in fall and spring and make sure the player does other things in winter and summer" to "the player plays 12 months a year because he needs touches to compete with Europeans." And now with the pandemic changing the last year for many, where do you find balance, both for you and how you help your players find balance?
    NewDadaCoach repped this.
  2. NewDadaCoach

    NewDadaCoach Member

    Tottenham Hotspur
    United States
    Sep 28, 2019
    I have had the same thought. I'm sure there is a wide variety of opinions. I think the answer depends on the end goal. The higher level they want to play, it seems the more they will have to play as it is such a competitive landscape. Which yes, makes them more vulnerable to injury.
    So perhaps the question "How much is too much?" is impossible to answer as the answer will be different for each kid.
    For me personally I think it's good for kids to sample various sports at early ages... but if they want to take soccer serious (ie play at high level) they will need to be quite committed starting somewhere around age 9-12. But if they only want to play for their HS then the model of "only play 2 seasons a year" is fine.
    The soccer youtuber Matt Sheldon has some good insights. He reflects on his past and what he would have changed had he known more. He played club/HS, then D1 at UC Davis, now in USL. Probably won't get past USL though and he dives into those reasons on some of his videos, he's really transparent about all of it. In a nutshell from what I recall he would have started playing more soccer earlier (specializing earlier) and just playing more overall, more pickup and stuff like that, more touches, etc. He started a bit too late he thinks to get to say MLS or above.
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  3. CornfieldSoccer

    Aug 22, 2013
    This is highly unscientific, but I'd say let the kid be your guide. If they're playing a traditional fall/spring club schedule at U9 or 10 or whatever and they say they want to add a little more and you can take on whatever time and money are involved, I'd say go for it.

    But I would encourage parents of younger kids to avoid locking into soccer before your kids get the chance to play other sports, just because it can be fun (and when they get a little older, if the soccer becomes more serious, a lower-key experience in another sport can be a relief).

    I say all of this with the caveat that, as they get older, you do need to take into account the fact that they can hurt themselves from lack of rest or -- and this is harder to me to gauge -- burn themselves out. We've gone through periods where my son would play organized games every day plus pickup soccer if he could. And I'm pretty sure we haven't always made the right calls on that by letting him, more often than not, play more rather than limit it.
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  4. NewDadaCoach

    NewDadaCoach Member

    Tottenham Hotspur
    United States
    Sep 28, 2019
    #4 NewDadaCoach, Apr 5, 2021
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2021
    To me, in injury is not a major factor as I think that injury happens in every sport, it comes with the territory. Most kids can play just about anything for 3 or 4 hours a day and be fine. Their bodies are built for it. And if they are just doing pickup most likely they won't get a serious injury (ie it's not a serious game where kids are really going after the glory and slide tackling and stuff). I used to played tackle football in the yard and that's way harder on the body. But hey maybe I am old school. There is also the idea that more play strengthens muscles and bone and ligaments (ie makes kid more robust); prob there is a sweet spot of stressors - too little and perhaps there's some atrophy and no strengthening, too much and you get a stress injury. Just as is the case with anything, like lifting weights; To make gains you need stress- not too little not too much.
    Maybe I got lucky as a kid, but I was very active, falling out of trees, playing soccer and football even in the rain and mud, etc, etc. I never got a serious injury even from the HS soccer matches (Worst was a hamstring strain). But I do know major injuries happen; esp at college; I've met guys who have had major knee injuries and quit due to that.
  5. NewDadaCoach

    NewDadaCoach Member

    Tottenham Hotspur
    United States
    Sep 28, 2019
    The way I think about it - there are things that a kid can work on that are not physically taxing. For ex, juggling, or footwork drills that can be done at home solo. I would mix it up so that there isn't 3 days in a row of hard core training. Maybe in a week you do (mixed up) 3 days hard core (scrimmage, sprints, etc), 1 day of rest, 3 days of lower intensity training like passing, juggling, working on form, studying the game (off ball movement, etc).
  6. CornfieldSoccer

    Aug 22, 2013
    I think our kids are probably in different places age-wise (mine's a 2005), but as they get to be full-size humans, injuries from overuse and repetitive use do happen, particularly nagging things like shin splints that are more common on and made worse by playing on turf. One of those decisions we made that might not have been the best was letting him run XC and play FT club soccer (almost all of the latter on turf) at the same time. He had shin splints as a result.

    The only two semi-serious injuries he's had (both knee-related, both requiring nothing more than a couple of months off each with some PT) happened at the very end of a long fall season that ran August-mid-December (the first one) and during a futsal tournament between fall and spring outdoor seasons and that came up during a separate indoor (turf) season. Granted, the second injury was the result of cheap shot, but in both cases he'd been running himself pretty hard for months and it definitely showed. No guarantee, but I suspect that had my wife and I been willing to throttle back just a bit at least the first of those might not have happened.
  7. NewDadaCoach

    NewDadaCoach Member

    Tottenham Hotspur
    United States
    Sep 28, 2019
    Good point. The older they are the more they weigh and the faster they run, so the forces are higher. A 50lb kid is at low risk of serious injury (like ACL) because of the low forces (low mass, low speed). But a 140lb teenager runs faster and has more mass, so if one bonks into another's knee that will be a much riskier situation. And then of course the 50lb kid will be more pliable as well.
  8. SuperHyperVenom

    Jan 7, 2019
    This simply isn't true - weight is not considered a risk factor of ACL injuries. And approximately 80% of all ACL injuries are non contact.
  9. SuperHyperVenom

    Jan 7, 2019
    What is consider playing too much. That's a great question. The key to getting opportunities is to stay uninjured. So it's important to find that sweet spot and cement in recovery day(s) each week and block 6- 12 weeks a year where they let their bodies take a rest from soccer and organised sport. And choose where in the season they want to peak.

    I think that some kids can handle more physically and mentally than other kids though.
  10. soccerdad72

    soccerdad72 Member

    United States
    Apr 5, 2021
    I agree that recovery time (both in season and off season) is critical. Both my son's club coach as well as his high school coach (who, fortunately, has a long history of club experience) have been good about going lighter on practices during weeks when they're playing two or three games. Once they get to HS age, it's generally a bad idea to play more than one game a day and any more than 3 games in a week is usually too much wear and tear as well. The other weekend, when his team was on a stretch of three straight days with games (and 6 games in 10 days), you could see how dead these boys legs were. A couple days later in practice, they basically just did some light training and footskill work, purposely giving them a chance to get their legs back under them.

    Off season time away from practicing/playing is important as well - which is hard because it seems that high school season seems to bleed right into club season (at least here in Ohio).
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  11. CornfieldSoccer

    Aug 22, 2013
    It's great when the coaches cooperate or at least don't plan/coach as if their team plays and practices in a vacuum.

    It's the same here (Illinois) re rolling from one right to another. Son's club team starts up again the week after the last high school game. There should be some down time after club play wraps in late June.
  12. sam_gordon

    sam_gordon Member+

    Feb 27, 2017
    When DS was an 8th grader, he was on two teams, his MS team and the JV team. He was also a "trapped" club player. His club put together a team to go to a tournament (some teammates didn't have school ball) and he wanted to go.

    So he played MS on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Friday night after the game we drove 3 1/2 hours for the tournament. They played two games Saturday and two games Sunday (one being the championship). And it was HOT. Drive home Sunday night and he's scheduled to play MS on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday.

    During Monday night's game he pulled his hamstring.

    Yes, we shouldn't have let him play that much. He was feeling fine and ready to go and we let him.
  13. CoachP365

    CoachP365 Member

    Money Grab FC
    Apr 26, 2012
    Please keep in mind that you're experience as a kid playing your sport of choice for 6 hours is different than a kid today playing structured for N hours. You could "drop back" /"let me keep"/"i'll pass for a while" ie self regulate because it was informal with your friends. School/club tends to frown on not giving %100, especially in game situations.

    They're built to play, but self regulated play...
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  14. NewDadaCoach

    NewDadaCoach Member

    Tottenham Hotspur
    United States
    Sep 28, 2019
    I was speaking generally.
    If no force then there will be no injury.
    If there is high force and some motion or impact that the bone/muscle/ligament was not designed for then there will be some injury. U-littles generally don't exert enough force for major injury to occur

    Re ACL weight is a factor not in the sense of contact, but weight distribution. Females compared to males have a higher proportion of weight above the waist, and they also have less muscle mass in the legs so they are more susceptible to ACL tears compared to males.
  15. dehoff03

    dehoff03 Member

    Apr 22, 2016
    Weight is a factor in ACL injuries due to increased forces in decelerating. The brakes and suspension on a Honda Accord aren’t going to be as effective at stopping if you have 2,000 pounds loaded in the trunk. Plenty of studies that have shown an increase in BMI increases the injury risk.

    FWIW, women have a higher percentage of weight below the waist. The chair challenge shows this.
  16. NewDadaCoach

    NewDadaCoach Member

    Tottenham Hotspur
    United States
    Sep 28, 2019
    I see, I thought I had saw that in an article before but I could be wrong. Clearly in each gender there is huge variability with some men and some women both having much weight in the torso area.

    According to this article the reasons are:
    Physical Factors
    Smaller Intercondylar Notch and ACL: The intercondylar notch, which is the groove in the femur where the ACL passes through, is naturally smaller in women than it is men. Of course, this means that the ACL itself is also smaller in order to accommodate the narrower passage.

    Wider Pelvis: In general, women have a wider pelvis which causes the downward angle of the thigh bones to be sharper. This causes women to bend their knees towards the midline of their body, placing additional stress on the ACL.

    Lax Ligaments: Women also have more elastic ligaments than their male counterparts. This greater flexibility makes the ACL more prone to being stretched and twisted.

    Technical Factors
    Flat-footed Landings: Studies show that women typically jump and land with the soles of their feet instead of on the balls of their feet. By landing flat-footed, the knee has to absorb most of the shock.

    Running Upright: Studies show women tend to run in a more upright position than men. This gives them less control over how the knee rotates, especially during sudden movements.

    Quad Dominance: Studies also show that women tend to have stronger quadriceps than hamstrings. This can cause a female athlete to rely more on her quadriceps for movement. Consequently, the knee compensates for the lack of hamstring strength by placing additional stress on the ACL.

    Hormones seem to be a factor to:


    Scientists don’t understand the mechanisms that would cause this, but some studies have found a link between women’s menstrual cycle and risk for ACL injuries. Women seem to be more susceptible to injury in the first part of their cycle, before ovulation.
  17. SuperHyperVenom

    Jan 7, 2019
    @NewDadaCoach is correct. Although a lot of those risk factors were disproven in other recent studies.
    @dehoff03 states there are "plenty of studies that have shown an increase in BMI increases the injury risk". Injury risk is not the same as ACL injury risk. And were these "studies" of 12-25 yo athletes or 50+ yo men?
  18. dehoff03

    dehoff03 Member

    Apr 22, 2016
    Here's one with 15 year old female athletes-

    Greater body weight, a high hip abductor strength, and small femoral anteversion were risk factors for noncontact ACL injury in female high school basketball and handball players.

    And another-

    It is also important to understand how BMI affects the musculoskeletal system. A higher BMI subjects the knee to a greater risk of injuries through stress imposed by an increased load and joint space narrowing.16

    Previous studies have indicated a correlation between elevated BMIs and the risk of noncontact anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries.12,21,24

    Deceleration FORCE= mass x acceleration.
  19. NewDadaCoach

    NewDadaCoach Member

    Tottenham Hotspur
    United States
    Sep 28, 2019
    I feel we are getting stuck on ACL injuries. I think we can all agree that being in good physical condition will lower our chance of injury. But even then it is no guarantee. Look at Christian Pulisic, he's built like a toothpick but keeps straining his hamstring. So there's elements of genetics, and other things like rest, hydration, etc, and the style of play (how aggressive) and then just plain luck.
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  20. SuperHyperVenom

    Jan 7, 2019
    @dehoff03 - I'll agree with you on one thing the more one weighs the more stress on the joints. My doctor told me every extra 1 kilo is 4 kilos of pressure on my knees. Poor conditioning is a risk factor in most sports injuries.

    However, your second source is about ACLR and revision in the obese population - hardly relevant. And the first one has a flaw in it that it didn't specify playing time. Height is an advantage of Basketball and Handball players (the subjects of the study) - is it possible that the players who played the most were more at risk simply not because of their BMI, but because they had the most minutes?

    From what I understand - deceleration tends to be more of a risk for females. But young women 12-21 are at more of a risk for ACL injury to start with due to the anatomical, biomechanical and hormonal reasons that @NewDadaCoach mentioned above. There is also playing surfaces, etc, Females also tend to get the less experienced coaches and worst playing fields...
  21. dehoff03

    dehoff03 Member

    Apr 22, 2016

    A lot depends on the kid as well at the youth level. My daughter started getting some nagging "injuries" when she was with a team that did a lot more drills and skills in small groups outside their regular training and games. These disappeared when she moved to a team that had more 3v3 and 4v4 activities, even though she was probably training more and would do more at home. In hindsight it was probably more mental burnout than anything physical causing those "injuries", but you have to be aware of the signs. Most likely due to the repetitive nature and "intensity" of the drills versus the flow of SSGs.
  22. dehoff03

    dehoff03 Member

    Apr 22, 2016

    Here's another-

    Conclusions Elevated BMI combined with narrow notch width may predispose young athletes to non-contact ACL injury.

    I'm not saying weight or BMI is the only factor for non-contact ACL injuries, but it very well could be one of many factors and may magnify them. Females also have more risk factors as you pointed out.

    I wish I remembered which episode it was, but I believe on an episode of John O'Sullivan's podcast he had on a PT or strength coach on discussing ACL injuries. It may have been Mike Boyle, but I can't remember. I do remember him making the comment that weight definitely played a factor and he was referencing working with female soccer players and seeing similar results from his colleagues.

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