Our players’ health and safety are a top priority across the Fire Juniors Network. We understand that to be successful on the field, we need to ensure we are supporting players physical, mental, and emotional development off the field. For physical health and development, Chicago Fire FC is partnered with RUSH Physical Therapy to support players from the First Team professionals down to the Fire Juniors youth participants. Learn more about our partnership here. In addition to providing care at RUSH Physical Therapy centers, Chicago Fire Academy and Chicago Fire Juniors City are fortunate to be supported by RUSH Physical Therapy athletic trainers. We connected virtually with our three youth-level RUSH Physical Therapy trainers, Chris Toone, Stephanie Luebbe, and Matt Hugg, to get to know them more and celebrate the work they do. Keep reading to learn more about their careers, common injuries they see on the job, and advice they would give to help players remain fit to play.
Name: Chris Toone
Teams: Chicago Fire Academy
Time with Chicago Fire: One year
College: Bachelor’s degree in athletic training from Ithaca College, master’s degree in sport and exercise science from the University of Utah
Name: Stephanie Luebbe
Teams: Chicago Fire Academy (U13-U15)
Time with Chicago Fire: One year and one month
College: Bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from University of Minnesota, master’s degree in athletic training from The College of Saint Scholastica
Name: Matt Hugg
Teams: Chicago Fire Juniors City (U8-U19 Boys and Girls)
Time with Chicago Fire: Nine months
College: Bachelor’s degree in athletic training from East Stroudsburg University, master’s degree in kinesiology from Illinois State University
What motivated you to become an athletic trainer?
Chris Toone (CS): The team/community environment is something I greatly enjoy working within, and getting to help people reach their goals on the field is an added bonus.
Stephanie Luebbe (SL): I originally wanted to do physical therapy, but fell in love with athletic training during an internship with UMN swimming/diving and men’s gymnastics.
Matt Hugg (MH): I knew I wanted to go into the health care field since high school when I volunteered to learn from my high school’s athletic trainer. I also knew I never wanted to feel trapped in an office every day or a hospital. Also, I grew up playing sports and have always enjoyed them. This profession provides a good balance of professional and personal passions.
What is your favorite part of your job?
SL: I like being able to work directly with athletes and being present during practices and games. Every day is something different. Our job is so versatile, whether it is preventative measures, emergency care, or physical rehabilitation, we get to use a holistic approach to care. We also get to watch our athletes reach their goals and make a difference in their lives.
MH: My favorite part of my job is building the relationship with a patient after an injury and working with them to get them back to full performance, no matter how severe the injury may be. It helps build a lot of trust with your athletes!
Outside of your current role with RUSH Physical Therapy and Chicago Fire, what other sports have you worked with?
CT: Out of college I began working with U.S. Ski & Snowboard. I was fortunate enough to be a part of caring for the U.S. Men’s National Alpine Team for three years before working an additional year in ski racing with a private professional team.
MH: Throughout my career, I have been involved in different settings, from working with the children at CFJ all the way up to Division I Athletics. All of which have presented new challenges and skills to learn so that I can provide the best care possible.
What injuries or issues do you face most often working with your players?
SL: We see a lot of ankle sprains and adolescent injuries including OsgoodSchlatter disease (a repetitive use injury that causes a painful lump below the kneecap) and Sever’s sisease (a repetitive stress injury to the heel), and just overall muscle tightness. These players are young (starting at 12 years old), so they are still growing and learning how to move their body and use the right muscles.
MH: Working with soccer most people would say ankle sprains, which is true. However, when working with children who are physically active, you will always see issues like Osgood-Schlatter and Sever’s disease.
What differences do you notice with the most common injuries between girls and boys?
MH: I see injuries more commonly in girls than boys, but I also see girls recovery being easier because they tend to follow physical rehabilitation and return to play plans better than boys. Girls have less reoccurrence of injuries because of this.
As we transition to outdoors for our Spring Season, what are areas of concern you often see during this time?
CT: For [CF Academy], transitioning to spring comes with increased volume in training/games. We try to be careful when managing player loads to avoid any overuse/chronic problems that might develop.
SL: Weather is always a concern and making sure athletes are dressed properly for whatever type of weather they may encounter. It is important to constantly check for rain and see if lightning is in an unsafe range. Also due to the change in playing surface, shin splints and ankle injuries tend to occur. Muscle strains also occur because of the change in weather/temperature and poor field conditions.
What can players do to prevent any potential injuries moving from turf to grass or indoor to outdoor?
SL: Ensure they have proper footwear (not too old, take time to break in new cleats, good support, etc.). If they are prone to foot and ankle injuries or shin splints due to playing surface changes, it is important to focus on keeping lower leg, ankle, and foot muscles strong and flexible.
MH: Workout and proper footwear. Stronger muscles reduce risk of the many injuries you can get playing soccer. Playing on turf, you need the proper shoes. Improper footwear can lead to a lot of injuries.
What are your favorite exercises and activities players can do at home to help prevent common injuries with soccer?
CT: We find mobility in general to be highly undervalued. A simple yoga or stretching session is an easy aspect to throw into a recovery routine to help reduce injuries and optimize performance.
SL: Having a proper warm-up and cool down for practices. Glute and core strengthening like clam shell, single leg squat, side steps and monster walks and dead bugs are great. Stretching and other recovery exercises are important to implement after training. Also, ankle and intrinsic foot strengthening and dynamic balance exercises make a difference.
MH: Pelvic tilts! Do them every day. Having hip mobility reduces the chance of low back pain, hamstring issues, and knee injuries.
Wrap Up Questions
What is a common misconception about our job?
CT: That we just stand on the sidelines and fill water bottles. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes to care for the players before, during, and after an injury occurs. At the end of the day, we’re always striving to prevent injuries in the first place, and that takes a collective effort from everyone involved with the players.
SL: Many people think we are personal trainers or physical therapists. We have some aspects of each of those professions, but as athletic trainers we have different certification exams and schooling. Our profession includes other specialties such as emergency care, wound care, first aid, and injury prevention in addition to injury evaluation/management and rehabilitation.
MH: Most people will get us confused with personal trainers. Athletic trainers are health care professionals and have been for decades. Our job consists of doing injury evaluation, rehabilitation, emergency care, evidence-based practice, psychosocial strategies, and all therapeutic interventions.
What else would you like to share about your career path, your current role, or sports-related injuries?
SL: Beginning in 2022, a master’s degree will be required to become an athletic trainer. Many people don’t realize the education required for this profession.
MH: I always encourage players, parents, coaches, and staff to get to know your athletic trainer. We are always here to help you and get you back to performing to the best of your ability.