The problem with ACL prevention programs

During the spring soccer season, nearly every girls team has warmed up with some form of an ACL prevention program. Whether specifically designed for purposes of ACL prevention like the FIFA11+ or PEP programs, or just a basic dynamic warmup that looked similar, every team’s initial warmup period was fairly similar. 

The effort to institute these warmups is positive. It demonstrates an awareness of the problem. However, these programs have virtually no effect.

Every weekend, I watch teams warm up, and their effort is wasted completely because their techniques in the exercises are so poor. The players laugh and talk throughout the warmup: There is no concentration on the movements or the correct executions. The coaches ignore the warmup as if it is something that they are required to do, but do not approve. They use the time to set up cones for the next activity or throw balls at the goalie who often skips this general warmup.

The drills and programs are not magic. Simply going through the motions is not going to reduce or prevent injuries.

I listen to parents as I run down the sidelines, and I am dumbfounded. I hear mothers talk about their 14-year-old daughters rehabbing after their second ACL surgery. They praise these girls for their effort to rehab and desire to play again. Then, they watch their other daughter’s u12 team with multiple girls already wearing knee braces.

Instituting a 5-minute throw-away warmup will not prevent or reduce injuries. It is pointless. After watching soccer throughout the spring, if there is one thing that I have noticed, it is that these young girls need to learn to move better. They may dribble well and shoot well and understand how to play the ball out of the back like all progressive soccer teams these days, but they can barely run and jump. Rather than ignoring the warmup, these coaches should be investing more time in the warmup activities and general movement drills because the best teams, in terms of winning, tend to be the biggest and fastest teams (or players). Ignoring the warmup because it does not affect the outcome of the game is foolhardy because few if any of these teams have the depth to sustain a loss to injury of its best player or two, and the best players tend to stand out because they move so well. This wasted time actually is the time to improve performance.

The programs are fine. It’s the lack of attention (feedback) and priority to the programs demonstrated by the coaches, and the lack of concentration to the proper execution demonstrated by the players that prevents the programs from positively affecting the injury rates.

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, The 21st Century Basketball Practice and Fake Fundamentals

1 thought on “The problem with ACL prevention programs

  • Thank you for being direct. The same occurs everywhere here in our town. Instead of looking at the warm-up as an initial opportunity to set the tone and tempo of the session coaches are building bad habits upon bad habits. I here time and time again, “Oh, relax coach.” or “Just let the captains lead the warm-up, it builds leadership skills.” Instead, be quiet during the game and let the kids lead and coach the practice and warm-up to get the kids ready for the game.

    I think it was James Radcliffe that wrote in his book High Powered Plyometrics, that the first opportunity to coach is in the warm-up.


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