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Preventing player injuries

The prevention of injuries and the role everyone at a club can play in ensuring that footballers avoid injury was on the agenda at the UEFA Fitness for Football pilot seminar in Istanbul.

Prof. Jan Ekstrand speaks at the Istanbul seminar
Prof. Jan Ekstrand speaks at the Istanbul seminar ©UEFA

Everyone, from the coach and doctor to the president at a club or of a national association, has a role in keeping players free of injury – this was the clear message heard by participants at the second Fitness for Football pilot seminar in Istanbul.

UEFA has compiled the world's largest database of football injuries, gathering data from 75 teams, including the likes of Manchester United FC and Real Madrid CF, from 1.2m matches and training sessions over the last 12 seasons. The 16,000 injuries logged have allowed patterns to be established in terms of which problems players at elite level are likely to suffer most, and how long they can be expected to be sidelined for.

However, alongside the potentially decisive raw statistics, Prof. Jan Ekstrand, first vice-chairman of the UEFA Medical Committee, emphasised the role that all members of the coaching and backroom staff should, but often do not, play in ensuring their club's best players remain on the pitch.

"If you don't score goals, you analyse why and think about what you should do in training; it's the same with injuries. If you have a lot of muscle injuries, you need to look at why that's happening," Ekstrand, a member of the UEFA Fitness Working Group leading the seminar, told his audience. "You also need to look at who controls these factors, who was involved in situations where these injuries occurred."

Though medical staff clearly have a major role in that regard, Ekstrand highlighted the team coach as being particularly crucial in preventing injuries. The man who picks the team also dictates tactics, training sessions and their content, which can all have an effect on the squad in terms of injuries and their performance on the pitch.

"Presidents may not be aware of just how important the coach is in the injury situation at a club. Players are tracked for injuries, but it might be an idea to track coaches too. There is a proven correlation between injuries and success," said Ekstrand, who illustrated his point with data from an unnamed club which – over a ten-year period in which it employed four coaches – only won silverware with the bosses who had a lower-than-average number of injuries within their squads. "Is this a coincidence? We don't believe it is."

With the likelihood of injury increased by a sudden change in the coaching staff, Ekstrand suggested club boards should think twice before making changes. However, he maintained that if coaches work hand-in-hand with their medical staff and measure the impact they can have in helping players avoid injury, the likelihood of them finding themselves out of a job will be reduced.

"If you want good injury prevention, my first piece of advice is to be aware that coaches are the most important people in terms of injuries. Coaches who say they have bad luck with injuries show that they don't really have knowledge about these things. It's not bad luck," he explained, adding that a close relationship between coach and doctor can make all the difference.

"Show an interest. Medical teams are normally very much devoted to doing a good job, but you have to show an interest. Coaches who show an interest will motivate the medical team into doing a good job to satisfy the coach. Communication – that is the key. It's the bottom line."