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Olympic Fitness: Soccer


This blog is one in a series about how watching the Tokyo Olympic Games can inspire your own fitness and fun.

As the world’s attention turns to Olympic soccer and much of America hopes to see the women’s team return to the medals podium, you can learn a lot from watching these elite athletes compete.

Soccer, or “football” for most of the world, has a long Olympics history. Women’s soccer, however, has only been in the Olympics since 1996. Since then, the U.S. women’s team has been a dominate force in the sport.

Adventist Health Portland’s own Jessica Chacon — pictured here in competition — offers some insights based on her many years playing soccer for a Division I school in the Southeastern Conference (SEC). Today, Jessica is a rehabilitation services manager and a speech-language pathologist.

What it takes to play Olympic soccer

We tend to admire Olympians because they have reached an elite level in their sport. For soccer players, this often begins at a young age. “Training to be part of the Olympic team is a huge commitment,” Jessica says. “Players are likely trying out for the U-20 national team at around the age of 16.”

Jessica says soccer players work up to that level by playing on club and school teams. They often practice nearly every day of the week. Their training includes ball skills as well as a lot of cardio so they have the stamina to run for the 90 minutes required in a soccer game.

Takeaways from soccer

Whether you’re a competitive soccer player or just enjoy watching the game, there’s a lot to learn from these Olympians. A huge takeaway from soccer is how important teamwork is.

“You all have to have one common goal and work your hardest to get there,” Jessica says. “You have to lift each other up if needed. You win as a team and lose as a team.” She notes the best teams trust each other and recognize every position on the field is equally important.

Perseverance is also key. “It’s important to play for the entire 90 minutes, as things can change dramatically,” Jessica explains. “It’s especially important to not get down when a goal is scored against you but instead rise up and try to get one back.

Soccer also provides a good reminder that proper warm-up is essential for reducing the risk of injuries. Soccer players jog, stretch and do quick sprints to get their hearts pumping and their bodies limber before they hit the field.

Though you may not see it on TV, these elite athletes are also fueling their bodies well. Jessica says they rely on high-quality carbohydrates before the game for energy and protein after to restore their bodies. They also drink a lot of water before, during and after each game.

Feeling inspired by soccer?

You may feel inspired after watching a few rounds of Olympic soccer. It’s an easy sport to enjoy with friends, family and kids. But take it slow, Jessica advises. “You don’t want to jump on the field and think you are going to be able to play 90 mins of soccer on your first day,” she says.

Instead, she suggests taking a soccer ball to the park and practice your ball skills around cones. Get a small net and take a few shots. Try to take your kids or some friends so you can practice passing the ball back and forth. When you’re feeling more confident, you may want to try one of several recreational leagues in the Portland area.

Be aware that soccer can be hard on the knees. If you’ve had a prior injury, you may need to wear a brace. If you get injured or start to develop pain as you play, be sure to visit with a physical therapist. They can help get you back on the field and give you tips for avoiding new injuries.

To learn more about Adventist Health Portland’s physical therapy and rehab programs, call 503-261-6962. Jessica and her team are here to help.