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Why All YOUTH Footballers Must Do This Simple Exercise

Why All YOUTH Footballers Must Do This Simple Exercise

Written by Yianni KyriacouJames Donnelly 

You wouldn’t drive the same car for 10 years, never maintain it and just hope it doesn’t break down...

You take it to the mechanic at least once a year, they run some tests and look for common faults. They change the oil if required. This keeps the car running smoother for longer and reduces the chances of it breaking down.

Changing the oil when it needs to be changed and having a regular service is cheaper, easier and less stressful than waiting at the side of the motorway for a tow truck when it inevitably breaks down, and it helps to think of our bodies in a similar way.

Ultimately, prevention will always be better than waiting and reacting to a problem when it arises and then trying to find the fastest cure. A movement screen is like a regular check-up but for your body, they're time efficient and provide a coach with A LOT of information. This information can help identify small issues that over time, may be a risk factor for injury (or even big issues which need addressing immediately). 

A key component of a functional movement screen is the overhead squat. It provides powerful insights into a player’s current level of athleticism and the set-up is simple: 

  • Feet shoulder width apart
  • Toes pointing forwards
  • Arms straight in line with your ears. If using a stick, place it on the crown of your head with your arms bent at 90 degrees and then straighten your arms.
  • Squat as deep as you can

The overhead squat is so valuable because it involves every major joint in the body. We are able to see mobility restrictions at the ankle, hip, t- spine and shoulder. We are also able to see stability issues within the foot, knee, lumber spine and shoulder.

Injuries are multi-factorial and we can never attribute one specific problem as being the only cause. However, we can identify potential faults or movement restrictions that may increase your injury risk. Think of the body in terms of the kinetic chain, everything is connected and movement or a lack of movement at one joint affects the others. An example of this is the ankle. If the ankle does not have sufficient dorsiflexion and the knee does not travel over the toe, it will reveal itself in a screen as a player’s squat depth will be limited. 

On the field, this may show up as poor landing mechanics. On landing, a lack of movement at the ankle may cause great force to be taken on by the knee joint. In a worst-case scenario, the knee could be put into a stressful position and potentially a serious injury could result. Sometimes, a player can get away with small faults 1000 times without any issues, but on rep 1001, the breakdown occurs. So just because a player may not be in pain or feel like there is a problem right now, doesn’t mean they aren’t edging closer to a predictable issue in the future. 

Simple modifications to the exercise can help to determine if the issue really is ankle mobility. In this case, raising the heel artificially increases ankle mobility and the impact of this is plain to see. The trunk position is clearly much more upright in the comparison photos below:

Every player ideally should be able to squat to full depth (hip below knee). If they can’t, there’s a good chance that they're at an increased risk of injury and somewhere down the line they will experience a setback.

This could be in the form of a muscular strain or tear caused by poor muscle recruitment (essentially when restrictions cause small muscles to do the job of big muscles). Even worse would be an injury to passive structures like tendons and ligaments, which have the potential to put a player out for a full season. 

Below you can see some of our Matchfit Elite Programme players. The most common faults we see (especially in younger players) is a lack of ankle and shoulder mobility.

The overhead squat makes up just one part of a thorough functional movement screen, however at the very least we strongly recommend that all players take a couple of minutes to film themselves performing an overhead squat from multiple angles and sending it to their fitness coach for an analysis.

For the sake of a couple of minutes a player can save themselves days, weeks or months on the side-line. Plus, if their test doesn’t present any issues then they'll gain the peace of mind and confidence of knowing that (in terms of mobility and stability) they've ticked a huge box in terms of doing what's in their power to reduce injury risk.   

One final key point to make is that a player movement screen is not all about injury prevention. If a player's movement and stability is being restricted in one or more joints RIGHT NOW then this could be directly impacting their ability to perform certain actions on and off the ball efficiently and ultimately successfully.

For example, they might be performing extra sprints each week in an effort to increase their straight line and change of direction speed, and be seeing limited progress if any at all. By identifying an issue through a functional movement screen and shifting their attention to working to correct that issue first (before performing sprints), they could potentially unlock a higher level of speed in a much shorter space of time and with less training effort.

The potential for greater speed was already within them, it was just being restricted by a lack of stability and mobility in key areas. If a player performs sprints and never addresses the pivotal issues of mobility and stability, then their progress will always be held back no matter how much speed training they do. 

Another issue could be that a player struggles to control a ball on the move which comes in at thigh height and requires them to raise and bring their knee to the outside of their body so that they can control it with the inside of their foot...

A poor touch leads to them losing the ball and the opponent starting a counter attack and scoring. The can practice the touch as much as they like, but the most influential improvement they could likely make is their hip mobility so that they can raise their knee and open the hip with greater freedom and speed. 

These are just a couple of examples, but hopefully these highlight the importance of taking the time to perform a proper functional movement screen at least twice per season, so that you can tap into the injury prevention and athleticism benefits and see your progress. 

Every player on the The Matchfit Elite Programme performs a thorough functional movement screen (which includes a video analysis of their overhead squat) in week one as part of their induction, before we use this information to created their fully customised training programme. 

>>> If you think you could benefit, click here to take a look inside the Matchfit Elite Programme

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