is it possible for young players to be playing too much soccer?

I had an email from a parent concerned that his children (one U8, the other U10) were playing soccer four or five times per week during the off season, with their teams and in various clinics and that this was perhaps too much.

It poses the question, is there such a thing as 'too much soccer?' My view is that playing four or five matches and/or training sessions per week is too much at any time of the year, let alone the off season!

For one thing, you have to consider the physical strain that such an amount of exercise exerts on a growing body. Over-training does not allow enough time for minor injuries to ligaments and joints to heal and serious, long-term injuries can result.

Young children are particularly at risk because their bones and ligaments sometimes grow at slightly different rates, causing an imbalance that makes it even easier for small "niggles" to turn into long-term medical conditions. Shin splints (medial tibial stress syndrome or MTSS) is an example.

Interestingly, research by the International Federation of Sports Medicine (FIMS) has shown children are only likely to sustain stress-related injuries if they play too much organised football – they can play with their mates in the park all day, every day without any problems.

This is probably because in the park they can stop and rest when they want to. There's no coach urging them on from the touch line.

In addition, too much organised football can simply take the fun out of the game. We all need a break... even coaches!

If you want to keep your players active in the off season, why not set up a few goals in your local park and let the children play without any coaching or instruction from adults? Free play is an essential part of a child's learning process and we shouldn't be afraid to let go of the reins occasionally.