World Cup LogoThe 2010 FIFA World Cup is upon us! The frenzied fans are coming out from every nook and cranny to cheer on their teams, painted head to toe in team colors and fervently waving flags. An event that only occurs once every four years, this year’s tournament is hosting 32 teams in South Africa and, like past gatherings, will keep fans on their toes until the last whistle blows.

kirkendallThe games are appealing, even for those of us who merely played recreational soccer in elementary school (and ended up picking flowers on the field for most of the game. Who, me?). Displays of seemingly unnatural athleticism mixed with grace and bold competitiveness can keep any audience entranced. At times, the players seem superhuman: contorting their bodies midair to reach the balls that seem unreachable, taking a beating from rivals and falling in a bone-crushing way, then getting right back up without flinching to do it all over again.

But this isn’t always the case. Soccer players, with all their strength and speed, are at high risk for all kinds of injuries. Players in all leagues suffer broken bones, torn ligaments and pulled muscles, and that’s just naming a few. This is where The Complete Guide to Soccer Fitness & Injury Prevention comes in handy!

Donald Kirkendall, with clinical commentary from William E. Garrett Jr., M.D., writes about playing, physical training, treating injuries, and maximizing performance with the expertise expected from someone who’s been in the sport nearly all of his life. UNC Press interviewed Kirkendall about healthy approaches to a good game.

Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

Q: What is the most common soccer injury, and what are some common severe injuries? Why are these injuries common?

A: The main injuries in soccer are contusions (you get kicked), ankle sprains, knee injuries, muscle strains (groin and hamstrings), and head injuries. Ankle sprains usually happen when a defender slides into an attacker and contacts the support leg, leading to unstable support and spraining the ankle. Knee injuries are mostly non-contact injuries that happen during landing and changing direction. Groin injuries usually occur when a player stretches to make a tackle or respond to an opponent’s movement. Hamstrings are becoming more common and happen when a player over-strides when sprinting. Head injuries occur when two players approaching from opposing directions collide in an attempt at the ball. Despite what some people think, a concussive head injury just doesn’t happen during purposeful heading.

Q: Your book stresses the importance of understanding “the nature of the game” in preventing injury and improving training. What, in your opinion, is the greatest misconception about the nature of soccer?

A: That soccer is a game of non-stop action. The ball is actually in play about two-thirds of the game and each player has many periods of low activity. Another misconception is an on-going debate about possession versus direct play. Few goals come from possessions that string many passes together. Goals come from quickly capitalizing on mistakes. The hard part is recognizing the other team’s error and taking advantage of it. A final misconception is that “direct play” is synonymous with “kick-and-run.” A team can cover the entire field with three to four passes under complete control and without the randomness of kick-and-run.

Q: You describe soccer as “a game that requires no particular genetic gifts to be successful.” Why is this? Are there any aspects of soccer that do depend on the athlete’s natural ability?

A: Soccer requires all aspects of the spectrum of physical fitness. A marathoner needs endurance, but has little need for sprint speed or jumping power. A sprinter has little need for endurance. It helps to be tall in basketball. The best soccer players are good in all aspects of fitness, but not great in any one, except maybe agility.

You can read the full interview here.

Kirkendall’s book is great for any soccer player, but his advice on training and treating injuries is valuable in all sports for players, coaches and parents. Here’s to a month of being glued to checking scores and watching for those game-changing moments that will be remembered until the 2014 games!