Soccer's many moves boost fitness skills, experts say

Mon Jun 23, 2014 5:11am EDT
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By Dorene Internicola

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Young soccer players may never reach the dazzling athleticism on display at the World Cup in Brazil, but fitness experts say the sport cultivates such a variety of skills that playing it can underpin a lifetime of activity.

From aerobic prowess to foot-eye coordination and the ability to turn on a dime, soccer hones the body so even a young baseball or tennis player can benefit from the sport, said Dr. Michael F. Bergeron, executive director of the National Youth Sports Health & Safety Institute, which advocates for health and safety in youth sports.

“Soccer is a sport that requires lot of different kinds of movements: running forward and back, cutting, changing direction, high-bursts and recovery capacity, that all enhance foundational skills,” said Bergeron, who is based in South Dakota.

“The conditioning, body control, recovery capacity and eye-foot coordination skills translate nicely into a variety of sports,” he added.

The number of young people playing soccer has risen from 1.6 million in 1990 to more than 3 million in 2012, according to figures from the U.S. Youth Soccer, a member of the United States Soccer Federation.

But Bergeron added there is a dramatic drop-off in sports participation in general by age 15.

Lauren Sesselmann, an American-born Canadian professional soccer player for the Houston Dash in the National Women’s Soccer League, runs youth soccer camps for boys and girls, mainly ages seven to 18.

“I work with the kids on jumping, vertical leaps, how not to be afraid when in the air, how to execute a proper header, and different ways to protect themselves,” said Sesselmann, whose Canadian national team captured a bronze medal in the 2012 Olympics.   Continued...

Portugal's Varela scores their second goal during their 2014 World Cup G soccer match against USA at the Amazonia arena in Manaus June 22, 2014. REUTERS/Andres Stapff