These programs have enlisted some of the greatest minds in the world of soccer to come up with a strategic plan. Eventually this concept should produce well-rounded, fundamentally sound players who present a much stronger product for Major League Soccer and the USSF national teams.
Between the years of 2000-2005, soccer academies began to rise throughout the New York tri-state area. Specifically, the Red Bull New York Academy was created to develop youth players to eventually contribute to the New York Red Bulls professional team in MLS. Athletes were scouted, recruited and asked to attend a tryout where coaches would seek out players with the skills, dedication and desire to reach the highest level of competition in the sport.
The Red Bull Academy's mission was then to provide top-class coaching and facilities to ultimately focus on a concept of player development stressing individual growth by establishing and reaching goals. Academy coaches trained the players not only in soccer-specific skills, but also life skills such as teamwork, discipline and commitment. Through those initiatives, the ultimate goal was to develop a lifelong passion for the sport and the Red Bulls.
When John Gallucci Jr., MS, ATC, DPT, saw academy programs developing, he became concerned about what quality of healthcare would be provided to the athletes. Dr. Gallucci is not foreign to the rigors of the soccer industry. In addition to being president of JAG Physical Therapy, an outpatient physical therapy company with six New Jersey locations, he formerly served as head athletic trainer/physical therapist of the Red Bulls and is currently the medical coordinator for Major League Soccer. Dr. Gallucci knew the importance of providing proper sports medicine care for these academy athletes.
As the academy teams became established, he began getting calls from various coaches in the community regarding the direction of care for their athletes. It alarmed Dr. Gallucci that youth soccer players might not be getting the quality care they needed. As he started to make calls to the directors of three New Jersey academy programs, including New Jersey Soccer Academy (NJSA), Players Development Academy (PDA) and Red Bull, they all welcomed the concept of quality care.
The solution was to give athletes, coaches and parents a resource to contact for injuries sustained on the field. This would include an injury hotline, prevention of injury educational programs, athletic trainer coverage, physician referrals, imaging, physical therapy and return-to-sport programs. "It is like having a full comprehensive medical team for your club, similar to a professional team," said Tab Ramos, president of NJSA and head coach of the Under-20 US Soccer National Team.
"Throughout my years in professional athletics, I was able to see firsthand how important it is for athletes to have access to medical professionals on a timely basis," Dr. Gallucci added. "The whole concept of sports medicine is reliant on athletes getting the care they need as quickly as possible, so they can return to the field and compete to their full potential. As an athlete myself who underwent various knee surgeries, I experienced the
John Gallucci Jr., MS, ATC, DPT, president of JAG Physical Therapy, provides treatment to a New York Red Bulls Academy player.
lack of resources available at the youth level. When I opened JAG Physical Therapy in 2005, one thing I wanted to offer our community was first-class medical care for the youth population, filling that void and allowing our athletes the best possible opportunity to excel in their respective sports."
Making It Official
In June this year, the Red Bulls issued a statement announcing JAG as the official physical therapy partner of the team's academy and training programs. The press release stated, "We are thrilled to partner with JAG Physical Therapy. Our youth development programs are a top priority and our players deserve the very best in soccer-specific injury prevention and treatment. That access, through JAG Physical Therapy's expertise and multiple locations throughout New Jersey, is a real resource for us."
For his part, Dr. Gallucci said, "I'm thrilled and excited to partner with a top-class organization such as the New York Red Bulls. Myself, along with the entire JAG Physical Therapy team, will use our expertise to assist in maintaining their athletes at the highest level of physical fitness and health, ultimately keeping them on the field and ready to play."
The press release also provided further details about the academy and training programs: "The New York Red Bulls Academy is a cost-free program that aspires to help develop the best talent in the [New York] tri-state area. The players train a minimum of three times a week and play a maximum of two games under the supervision of our professional staff. The program is designed to assist dedicated and talented players to reach the highest levels of the game nationally and internationally. Additionally, the New York Red Bulls training programs are part of the Red Bulls' larger youth development system. Each level of player development has been structured to provide extensive support to players, coaches and youth soccer organizations. For players with outstanding ability, there is an opportunity to progress to the academy level and ultimately, the Red Bulls first team."
Besides signing agreements with the Red Bulls, NJSA and PDA, JAG Physical Therapy provides the same services to more than 75 youth athletic clubs in the New York/New Jersey markets. Dr. Gallucci related that the concept could be spread nationally to make sure youth athletes are getting the best sports medicine care available.
He has based this program on successful methods from his tenure with NBA and MLS teams as an athletic trainer/physical therapist. The goal is to teach athletes, parents and coaches the concepts of injury prevention, nutrition, conditioning, injury reporting, treatment and progressive return to sport. The system translates well to youth programs now that they are becoming more organized. Athletes, coaches and parents are taught to not let injuries linger, but rather get advice from JAG Physical Therapy's clinicians as soon as possible.
Dr. Gallucci outlined an athlete's injury process and how the system works through a recent case: A 16-year-old female, high-level soccer player and her family went to one of the education programs where they learned about ACL injuries and how they should be treated. The same athlete then heard a "pop" while playing in an academy game. Her mom called the hotline and the athlete was seen within an hour of the injury.
JAG Physical Therapy referred the patient to a respected sports medicine orthopedist, who evaluated her and determined she'd torn her ACL. The athlete received an MRI within 24 hours and the results confirmed the diagnosis. The next day, this athlete returned to JAG Physical Therapy for a three-week, pre-surgical rehabilitation program to decrease swelling and pain, while increasing ROM and encouraging good muscle-firing prior to surgery. She had reconstructive ACL surgery three weeks later and came back to the rehab clinic 48 hours after surgery. Currently, the athlete is five months post-op and has begun return-to-sport activities with the goal of getting back to the field within the next eight weeks.
The club director was so happy, he invited Dr. Gallucci to teach a seminar on prevention of knee injuries in the female athlete. In all, Dr. Gallucci and his team have instructed more than 2,000 female athletes in proper landing techniques, flexibility and strengthening methods to assist in decreasing the incidence of knee injuries such as ACL tears, patella tendonitis and patellofemoral issues. Prevention and treatment is the most important message he tries to preach to all the athletic programs. To date, JAG Physical Therapy has taught more than 30,000 youth athletes throughout New York and New Jersey.
In conclusion, education on preventing injuries is key to developing our youth population into high-level athletes. The more we as a community can do to educate these individuals on how to properly train and exercise, the less chance there is for them to sustain a career-ending injury. For youth clubs, it's so important to have the resources available to truly provide athletes with comprehensive sports medicine care, which involves a quick turnaround of diagnosis, treatment and returning to 100 percent as fast as possible.
It's great to have a first-class medical team for professional athletes in the United States, but we need to focus on providing that same quality care to our youth population so we can produce stronger athletes for our professional teams, ultimately delivering a higher-level product for Major League Soccer and the USSF national teams. JAG Physical Therapy is committed to serving as a resource to not only the academy teams, but also the youth soccer population as a whole, providing them with top-notch sports medicine resources, just like the pros.
Michael Evangelist is clinical director of the JAG Physical Therapy facility in Warren, NJ.