How to prevent and treat injuries

Children get lots of benefits from playing football.

They learn new skills, how to be a member of a team and how to take responsibility for their own actions. They also make friends, improve their fitness and, if they are coached properly, their raised self-esteem will flow through and enrich other areas of their lives, both at school and at home.

Although youth football is a beneficial and relatively safe sport, the American Journal of Sports Medicine report that young football players in the USA suffer about 120,000 injuries each year sufficiently serious to require a trip to a hospital emergency room.

The total number of football-related injuries among children, including those treated outside of a hospital ER, is estimated to be almost 500,000 per year. These figures are from 2003 and, bearing in mind how many more children play football, they are likely to be considerably higher today.[1]

The most common injuries

The most common type of football-related injury is soft-tissue contusion (a bruise).

Sprains and strains are very nearly as common as bruises while fractures are, thankfully, relatively uncommon, accounting for only about 3% of injuries to children.[2]

How to treat common injuries

1. Strains and sprains

A sprain is an injury to a ligament, one of the bands of tough, fibrous tissue that connects two or more bones at a joint and prevents excessive movement of the joint. An ankle sprain is a very common injury.

A strain is an injury to either a muscle or a tendon. A muscle is a tissue that, when stimulated by nerve messages, contracts and produces movement. A tendon is a tough, fibrous cord of tissue that connects muscle to bone.

How to treat sprains and strains

Both sprains and strains should be treated by the R.I.C.E method.

R = Rest: Rest the injured area to stop further damage and bleeding.

I = Ice: Applied as soon as possible, ice slows down blood circulation which reduces bleeding and swelling. Ice also helps reduce pain.

Note: Applying ice direct to the skin can cause burns. Wrap it in a towel or cloth.

C = Compression: Applied to the area as soon as possible to restrict bleeding at the site of the injury. Pressure compresses blood vessels so preventing blood escaping through open ends of the torn fibres.

Note: Do not apply compression around a whole limb as it will starve other areas of blood.

E = Elevation: Allows gravity to assist the removal of swelling from the injured area and aids recovery.

2. Bruises

A bruise, or contusion, happens when part of the body is struck and the muscle fibres and connective tissue underneath are crushed but the skin doesn’t break. When this occurs, small blood vessels near the skin’s surface rupture and blood collects under the skin. With no place to go, the blood gets trapped, forming a red or purplish mark.

How to treat bruises

Bruises should be treated in the same way but with compressing the injury, i.e., rest, ice and elevate the part of the body affected.

Causes of football injuries

  • Poor coaching
  • Poor technique, timing, inability to control emotion and coaches who push players to be overly aggressive are all factors that can result in injuries to children.

So please make sure you teach your players how to tackle, how to keep calm under pressure and that they play according to the rules.

Training on poor surfaces

Don’t allow your players to train on surfaces that are uneven or slippery and don’t leave it to the referee to check the field on match days. Get to the ground early and check for holes, broken glass, stones or other debris.

Incorrect or no warm-up and/or cool-down

Warm-ups and cool-downs are essential and should not be skipped. Your players are much more likely to suffer strains and sprains if you don’t warm them up and/or cool them down properly.


“The tissues in the body are a lot like a paperclip. If you just keep bending it over and over and over again, eventually that paperclip is going to break.”
Dr Michael Busch, Orthopedic Surgeon, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta

Playing too much, too often or ignoring pain can result in small injuries becoming chronic problems that result in players having take several months off to recover.

Players as young as four and five are often exhorted to “play through the pain” and that it’s good to take a knock for the team.

As coach, you must ensure a player who appears to be in pain stops playing immediately and that they don’t start playing again until you (not their parents) are 100% satisfied the child is happy and fit to resume.

Be sensible regarding training. While you may think that six-year-olds should train three times a week, bear in mind that they also have PE lessons at school, go swimming and play other sports.

Football is a game, not a vocation.

“Youth sports should always be fun. The ‘win at all costs’ attitude of many parents, coaches, professional athletes, and peers can lead to injuries.”
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons


[1] Epidemiology of 1.6 Million Pediatric Soccer-Related Injuries Presenting to US Emergency Departments From 1990 to 2003, Am J Sports Med, February 2007, 35, 288-293.

[2] Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness, Injuries in Youth Soccer: A Subject Review, Pediatrics 2000 105: 659-661

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