First Notes on Anatomy and Physiology for Soccer



As with all athletic endeavors, an understanding of the roles played by human anatomy and physiology are critical to success in soccer.  Anatomy is the identification of the structures, forms, and physical components of the body.  Physiology is the understanding of the functions, processes, and interactions of the anatomy that allow the body to live and to react to its environment.  The anatomy and physiology of the human body are entire areas of subject matter unto themselves. As coaches progress from the lowest levels of youth soccer to the highest levels of advanced (or even elite), soccer, they must immerse themselves in this subject matter in order to understand how human anatomy and physiology apply to the sport and to the age group involved.  The following treatment represents areas to be pursued.


(Includes muscle conditioning, which could be considered to be part of physiology.)

Base components of the Human Body:

Skeletal system – bone, cartilage

Muscular system –  grouped as legs, core (abdomen, back, hips, chest), shoulders, neck, and arms

Circulatory system – heart, veins, blood, waste removal

Respiratory system – trachea, lungs, oxygenation

Nervous system – brain, spinal cord, nerves, eyes

Digestive/Excretory system – mouth, esophagus, stomach, intestines

Connective tissue – tendons, ligaments

(It is extremely important to understand the structure of the knee and the foot.)

Baseline testing

Fitness assessment of a player to measure future progress, including such things as height, body weight, body mass index, shape, proportion, age, gender, eyesight, respiration, resting heart rate (pulse), blood pressure, lung capacity, free weight displacement, reaction time, range of motion, and vertical jump.


Physical fitness for playing the sport of soccer.

Controlling surface

Any part of the body used to receive the ball.

Core conditioning

The overall strength and fitness of the abdomen and chest (torso, trunk) of the body.

Dominant foot, Dominant leg

A natural preference for one extremity over the other, such as being right-handed or left-handed.

Dynamic stretching

A form of stretching utilizing the momentum from basic, well-controlled movement.  (Caution: Dynamic stretching can be beneficial.  However, when performed incorrectly, it may result in injury.  Learn and use proper technique.  “Do not bounce your stretches.  Ballistic (bouncy) stretching can cause injury.” – American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons)    See:  Why Stretch and Standing Stretches.

Explosive strength

Sudden muscle use at the highest level in the shortest period of time.

Explosive training

A type of training, usually associated with goalkeepers, to promote quick and decisive actions.


The straightening out of a limb of the body at a joint due to muscle contraction.

Eyesight (Vision)

Proper 20/20 binocular vision, natural or due to Lasik or contact lenses.  See:  Eyesight.


Match fit; physically able to perform for the entire duration of a game.


(1) A player’s level of ability to run and perform; (2) One of U. S. Soccer’s four components (“4 pillars”) of the game (Fitness, Psychological, Tactics, and Technique).

Fitness test

(1) Examination of a player’s physical status; (2) Annual examination of referees’ ability to perform physical duties.


Muscle and tendon elasticity; range of motion.


A bending movement around a joint in a limb, due to muscle contraction, that decreases the angle between the bones of the limb at the joint

Full fitness

A player’s ability to run and perform for an entire match and extra time.


Measurement of how tall a player is.


A form of strength training marked by applying force to an immovable object.

Left side of the body

That half of the human body, to the side of the midline, which contains most of the heart.

Loosening up

Stretching or warm up prior to entering a match.


A fitness regimen intended to increase explosive power, particularly for jumping.


The physical faculty of applying strength or force.

Pubescent Girls and Women ARE different

The angle of the legs in relationship to the hips, and differences in the structure of the knee require revised training methods for jumping and landing.  Revised methods for strengthening the knee, in particular, are critical to the prevention of injury.

Range of motion

In a human being, a normal range of motion refers to the amount of movement that a particular joint or body part can move, as measured in degrees.


Form of strength training.

Right side of the body

That half of the human body, to the side of the midline, which does not contain most of the heart.


Increase in muscle mass, usually measured in the amount of weight that can be displaced.

Strengthening Exercises – Example: “Curls”

Exercises are designed to increase muscle mass and effectiveness.  “Curls” use slow, deliberate flexion and extension through the full range of motion.  Abdominal curls mainly work the abdominal muscles.  Leg curls mainly work the hamstrings (and the calves).  Arm curls mainly work the biceps.  See:  Basic Strengthening Exercises and Intermediate Strengthening Exercises.

Vertical jump

The amount of height obtained by leaping into the air, usually measured from a standing position.

 Warm down

A brief period of light exercise and/or stretching after a strenuous practice, designed to gradually decrease the heart rate and promote a return to a resting state.

Warm up, Warm-up, Warm-ups

(1) A period of gradually more challenging exercises designed to increase the heart rate and promote a level of activity appropriate for a strenuous practice or game.  Usually includes stretching; (2) A systematized approach to ensure that appropriate exercises and stretching are performed to prepare the body for a practice or match.

Warm up activities

The specific exercises, stretches, or drills selected and used for warm ups.

Weight training

A regimen of physical exercise involving lifting or moving weights in order to improve muscle performance.


Baseline testing

(1) Cognitive assessment of a player if needed for comparison purposes due to a possible concussion; (2) Physiological assessment of a player to measure future progress in fitness or injury recovery.

Blood problem

Bleeding; bleeding such that a player is required to leave the field to address the blood rule.

Blood rule

Law 5 of the Laws of the Game; a player who is bleeding must promptly leave the field and not may not return until the bleeding has stopped and any affected clothing has been replaced.  (Incorporated after the advent of HIV/AIDS.)

Blood stop

Chemical compound used to coagulate blood.

First aid

To provide immediate treatment for an injury before full medical care can arrive.  See:  First Aid Kit for Soccer.

FIFA 11+ Program

FIFA-designed effort to prevent injuries.

Injury, Injuries, Injured

Physical hurt or damage to the body; a team having to deal with players who are not 100% fit due to injury; justification for removal or substitution of players from the field.  See:  Introduction to Treatment of Injury.

Injury prevention

The implementation of a strategy or program of exercises designed to increase flexibility and strength in the overall body or specific joints in order to prevent or reduce the severity of being hurt.  This can also include the use of protective gear, increased awareness of surroundings, use of proper technique in the performance of skills, collision avoidance, proper warm-up and cool-down, rest and recovery, and not playing hurt.  See:  Shin Guards, Avoidance Move,  Foot Care for Soccer 

Kinesio Tape

Elastic cotton strip with acrylic adhesive which, when applied to athletes when stretched, is intended to pull back to support the movement of muscles and joints; Physio tape. [Pronunciation: kuh-NEES-ee-oh]

Post-concussion assessment

Baseline capture of demographic and neurological data after a concussion for use in comparing future progress.

Physical therapy

The treatment of injury to restore movement and function.

Protective equipment

(1) Certain items permitted to be worn during a match in accordance with Law 4 of the Laws of the Game, “The Players’ Equipment.”  (2) Devices worn to protect injured body parts during recovery.  See:  The Players’ Equipment – Law 4.

Recovery plan

A conscientious, written document that details the steps to be taken to rehabilitate an injured body part and to return a player to full function.  Follow the plan and document the progress.


Rest – Ice (Cold) – Compression – Elevation; Acronym to be used for the immediate treatment of an injury.  See:  Introduction to Treatment of Injury.

Safety of the players

Paramount consideration for coaches and referees.  Incorporated into Law 4 of the Laws of the Game, “The Players’ Equipment.”  See:  The Players’ Equipment – Law 4.

Walking it off

A term for a player who is able to stretch or warm a minor injury by exercising the area in order to return to a game.


Accelerate, Acceleration

Increase in speed from a standing or slow moving position to a fast run or sprint.

Aerobic capacity

The level at which a physical activity can be performed by an individual without experiencing oxygen debt.

Aerobic power

Period of performance of a strength activity prior to oxygen debt.

Anaerobic activity

Brief periods of intense exercise performed during oxygen debt (from Greek an- “without” + aer- “air,” i.e., not dependent on oxygen).  Anaerobic exercises are typically intended to develop strength, power, speed, and/or muscle mass.


An individual’s ability to maintain his/her center of gravity while performing skills; to shift body mass in order to maintain equilibrium.

Baseline testing

(1) Cognitive assessment of a player if needed for comparison purposes due to a possible concussion; (2) Skills or fitness assessment of a player to measure future progress.

Bioelectrical, biomechanical components

Function of the nervous system as it relates to sports; the laws of mechanics applied to human movement to increase athletic performance, reduce the risk of injury and focus on the apply scientific principles of mechanical physics to the interaction of the human body and the soccer ball.

Blood Lactate

Lactic acid that appears in the blood when oxygen to the muscles is insufficient to support normal metabolic demands (anaerobic activity).  Reduces performance levels and needs to be expelled.

Carbohydrate loading, Carbs, Carb intake

A dietary technique which stresses the intake of carbohydrate-rich foods for two-to-five days before a match in order to try to improve performance.

Cognitive testing

Evaluation of a player’s ability to think and reason, usually quickly; evaluation of a player’s responses following a possible concussion.

Cooling break

Administrative stoppage of play, authorized by the referee, to permit players to briefly rest and obtain fluids.


(1) General physical ability to perform skills; (2) Understanding between coaches and players on tactics; (3) Agreement between players on how to react to certain situations.

Data Collection

(1) Gathering and measuring pertinent information about opposing coaches, players and teams as part of scouting; (2) Gathering pertinent about one’s own players as part of making improvements.


Failure to take in enough fluids to allow for proper sweating.  NOTE:  It is vitally important to stay properly hydrated during all vigorous exercise and activity.  See:  Water Kit for Soccer.

Distance covered

Statistic used to accumulate how far a player has run during the course of a match, usually defined in miles or kilometers.

Drug Testing

Analysis of blood and urine samples for illegal or banned substances.

Economic (or economical) training

Effectively combining two or more aspects of the game in a practice drill or exercise.  For example:  involving shooting and sprinting combines skills with fitness.


Chemicals (salts) used by the body, particularly during heavy physical exertion for muscle movement, that should be replaced as part of hydration during a match or practice.

EPTS (Abbrev.)

Electronic Player Tracking System; Electronic Performance and Tracking System.  A vest worn by the player over his chest and under the jersey captures biometric data.

Fatigue, Fatigued

Weariness or exhaustion on the part of players during a match causing reduced performance.

 Fluid intake

Maintaining proper hydration.


Maintaining the proper level of fluids within the body; ensuring that players drink enough.  See:  Water Kit for Soccer.


The study of body movement, addressing physiological, biomechanical, and psychological mechanisms.  Applications of include biomechanics, orthopedics, strength and conditioning, sport psychology, and methods of rehabilitation, such as physical and occupational therapy.

Maximal Oxygen Uptake (VO2max)

The maximum volume of the uptake of oxygen by an individual during intense exercise before they enter anaerobic activity.

Maximum speed

Fastest running time over a specified distance.

Maximum strength

Highest amount of weight which can be displaced for a certain exercise.


General health, blood pressure, blood flow, posture, energy supply, temperature, stable and safe levels of sugar, oxygen, hormones, body chemistry.


Data, statistics or analytics associated with a player, usually aggregated over more than one practice or game; the use of data and statistics to evaluate players.


Eating the right kinds of foods to stay healthy and to be able to physically perform at an optimal level.

Oxygen debt

A deficiency or lack of oxygen, typically resulting from vigorous physical exercise.


Maximum increase in fluid and electrolyte intake leading up to a match.

 Proprioception, Proprioceptive skill

Sense of joint positions, usually involving an individual’s ability to perceive the position of a joint without the aid of vision.

Reaction time

The quickness with which a goalkeeper can respond to a shot; the quickness with which any player can respond to the action of an opponent or the ball.

Rest and Recovery

(1) Period of time between practices or games for the body to regain optimal form.  (2) Period of time after an injury for the body to heal.

 Recovery, recovers

(1) During a game, the ability to get back on defense after the ball changes possession; (2) During a game, the ability to regain normal breathing and fitness to continue play at the highest possible level; (3) Between games, the ability to regain full fitness for the next match; (4) Regaining fitness after an injury.


Rate of movement or swift progression.

Stretch, Stretching

To reach out or extend one’s body or limbs to lengthen muscles and tendons.  See:  Why Stretch and Standing Stretches.


Muscle power; durability; toughness.


‘Resting” exercise during a fitness routine, intended to allow the body to recover.

Warming up

Performing physical actions (e.g., exercises or stretching) by players preparing to enter a game (either as a starting player or as a substitute).

Water break

(1) An intentional stoppage of practice or a match to allow players to hydrate by drinking water or sports drinks; cooling break; hydration break; (2) A FIFA-authorized procedure where a referee may determine before the start of a match, based on a formula involving temperature, humidity, and direct sun, if a hydration break will be used at the 30-minute mark or after, and at what stoppage of play, such as a throw-in.

 PLAYER PSYCHOLOGY can be considered to be a component of PHYSIOLOGY, but is usually treated as a separate subject.  Topic areas in player psychology may include:

Amped, Amped up

Mentally and psychologically prepared to play at the optimum level during a match; psyched; psyched up.

Breaking down

Player whose skills or emotional state is starting to deteriorate.

Burn out

In the short term, too tired to continue due to physical exhaustion; in the long term, too much soccer such that a person is no longer excited about playing the game.


The ability to perform skills under great pressure, particularly shooting.


A strong interaction and mutual attraction among players which results in a higher level of team play.

Demands of the Game

The ability of a player to keep up with such elements as dedicated time, fitness, skills, tactical understanding, and motivation.

Negative Reinforcement

The removal of an undesirable consequence as a result of an increase in preferred behavior.  A classic example is that a higher level of concentration during practice means not getting yelled at by the coach.

Player Persona

The personality that a player projects on the field, such as aggressive, methodical, analytical, or risk-taker.

Positive Reinforcement

Presentation of a desirable reward for an increase in preferred behavior.  This can range from simple praise, to stickers given to young children, to financial bonuses given to professional athletes.


Presentation of an undesirable sanction to try to eliminate an unacceptable behavior.  An example is ejection from a match for violent play.


Mental aspects of the game of soccer regarding such things as motivation and desire.

Readiness to play

The mental aspects of a player’s ability to obtain a high measure of Intensity; and the ability to maintain that intensity, at the beginning and during a match.

Soccer Coaching Tips:

–       Take actual courses in anatomy, physiology, first aid, and sports psychology.

–       Research the topic areas above on the internet.

© Copyright, John C. Harves