Whether you're watching the World Cup, English Premier League, La Liga, or Olympic soccer, you may think about grabbing your cleats from the back of the closet to play some pickup with friends.
And if that's the case, former United States national team goalkeeper Tony Meola has some advice for you: Make sure you prepare your knees.
Meola was jogging on the field at a low-key practice in 1999 when another player clipped him, putting him off his stride. A stud from his shoe caught in the turf, and his knee bent backward. "The next thing I knew, I was on the operating table," he says.
The injury, a torn ACL, sidelined the then-30-year-old Meola for almost five months before he could return to the field with his MLS club, the Kansas City Wizards. He was lucky. Though surgeons have made steady progress in recent years, one study found that only 44% of athletes are able to return to competition after an ACL surgery.
Those injuries are very common in the United States—around 300,000 Americans blow out their ACLs every year. Concerned by this epidemic, Meola's physical therapist, Holly Silvers, and his surgeon, Bert Mandelbaum, helped develop a set of preventive exercises for FIFA, soccer's world governing body. In clinical trials, the program has cut by almost one-half rates of noncontact soccer injuries—not only to knees, but also thighs, ankles, as well as arms. "If they'd had this program at the time, I wouldn't have had to go through what I did," says Meola. Similar programs are now being devised for basketball, volleyball, and other sports where knee injuries are common.
The keys to the 15-minute routine stem from observations that Silvers, Mandelbaum, and others made after reviewing hours of video that captured knee injuries. Typically they saw the knee bend sideways toward the other knee. "We would see that the outer hips, glutes, and trunk were not necessarily weak but imbalanced," Silvers says.
The experts devised a program that combines different exercises to help trengthen the core, hamstrings and hips, with plyometric jumps, balancing exercises and attention to form in running and cutting. It also trains the athlete's nervous system, improve agility and control. The exercises are designed to be done with a team as warmups before practice, but we've adapted them slightly for individual use. Either way, do them on a playing field where you've got plenty of room.
Here's the drill: