COLUMBIA — In 2011, the Missouri women's soccer team lost three players to ACL injuries. On a roster that consisted of only 22 players, it was a deep loss for a team trying to stay competitive in the Big 12.
That season was a turning point, said the team's athletic trainer, Tara McCleland.
"A good percentage of the ACL tears that have occurred since I've been here have been non-contact: either stopping and changing directions or jumping and landing," McCleland said. "So we wanted to train the girls on how to properly land during jumping and then how to drop their hips and change direction."
McCleland has been with the soccer team for seven years, as both a graduate assistant athletic trainer and then a full-time staff member. She graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in kinesiology and received her master's in health education and promotion from MU.
McCleland has been working with Mark Adams, who has been an assistant team physician since 1990. Together, McCleland and Adams have designed a program that helps strengthen parts of the leg to lessen the likelihood of an ACL injury. The two incorporated that program into the team's warm-ups last season.
"Weak hamstrings or a lot of quad dominance puts an athlete at more of a risk to tear their ACL," McCleland said.
To correct these issues, McCleland said the players do drills at the start of practice, and they also work with coach Bryan Mann, assistant director of strength and conditioning at MU, on training their muscles through proper form in the weight room.
"Even lifting, a lot of times they [the athletes] don't use proper technique so they're not training the muscles right," McCleland said. "That can put them at a higher risk of injuring or re-injuring that ACL. Coach Mann does a great job of making sure they do proper technique in the weight room."
At the start of practice, players run through the program for about 10 to 15 minutes before moving on to drills. They start by doing "double-leg" jumping over a line, moving front-to-back and then side-to-side. After that, they move on to "single-leg" jumping, going through the same process.
At the start of the program, they would move slowly through the drills, focusing on the players' form as they were going through the motions. Now, McCleland says, they move much faster trying to put that form into a game-like situation with speed and pressure on the legs.
McCleland and Adams got the idea from another training program, but have adapted it to fit into the drills Missouri already does. McCleland said when she approached the coaches about the idea they bought in quickly, but the players have been more reluctant.
"They don't necessarily enjoy jumping for two minutes straight," McCleland said of the athletes. "They get tired, they get bored and we practice at 6 a.m. so they're all half-asleep while they're doing it."
To emphasize the importance of the program, McCleland drew on injured teammates' experiences and how difficult sitting out was for them.
"I was like, 'These three girls weren't on the field. They had to sit and watch you guys play. They would have given anything to be on the field.'" McCleland said.
At some point during the season, McCleland said the players will use a movement analysis machine to examine how the training has affected their muscles, form and overall performance. McCleland also said that the results from this test could potentially alter the program in the future.
Missouri plays its next game at 6:30 p.m. Friday against Eastern Illinois. The game will be held at Walton Stadium.