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  • Daniel Kamenetzky

SOCCER INJURIES: IS NOT THE GAME'S CALENDAR, IS THE TRAINING PROCESS

Updated: Dec 13, 2022

More than a ten-time increase in the number of injuries in European soccer players under 21 that play in the professional first division. From 30 players injured in 2018-19 to 326 in the 2021-22 competitive season. This is data from the very valuable report published by Howden Sport & Entertainment in September 2022:” The 2021/22 European Football Injury Index” (https://www.howdengroup.com/news-and-insights/howdens-european-footbal-Injury-Index-reveals-record-injury-cost-of-over-500m-for-2021-22-season)


From Howden Sport & Entertainment in September 2022:” The 2021/22 European Football Injury Index”


The report, and many analysts, attribute the injuries increment to the professional games’ calendar. It supposedly creates a load of competition that doesn’t allow the players to recover completely increasing the appearance of injuries.

However, I would like to present a different perspective that I have been for many years insisting on:

  1. Games and calendar of competition are part of the injuries problem, but not the most critical one.

  2. The main load of stress for the soccer players’ bodies occurs in training.

  3. Professional players usually train 5-6 days a week and play 1-2 games a week.

  4. The training running load for a professional player (considering all activities and all intensities) is about 60-70 kilometers a week. The game running load is about 10-12 kilometers a game. The relationship between the game running load and training load is about 15-20% of the total.

  5. Injury occurrences have two main reasons: technical mastery and training loads organization.

  6. I showed in previous reports that I created for different clubs and organizations that the technical capacity of many high-level professional players is limited, creating a high risk of injuries (and many times actual injuries. https://www.spandrelanalytics.com/post/pedri-gonzalez-player-report)

  7. The distribution and organization of the training loads are usually inconsistent with the players' biological capacities. This is due to the lack of proper evaluations and objective individualized performance control.

  8. The new trend in utilizing “modern” technology (GPS, Heart Rate monitors, etc.) and the arbitrary data created by “Data Providers”, generate a wrong understanding of players' needs and limitations. This is one of the bases for the wrong training design and the created increment in biological risk.

  9. A big percentage of the injuries are soft tissue related (see the graph below). Most of the time it is generated by the player’s physiological limitations caused by the nonspecific training process. Also, the limited technical capacity overloads structures by repeating incorrect movements. That lack of specificity in the training decisions creates overload and limited capacity to tolerate training and games and to recover on time for the proposed training and games calendar.

  10. Finally, the lack of objective “recovery control models” prevents detecting if the designed training load is adequate for the players' biological opportunity in each training session.

From Howden Sport & Entertainment in September 2022:” The 2021/22 European Football Injury Index”


As you can see, the attribution of increased risk of injuries is incorrectly pointing to the number of games per season. I agree that the calendar is too long and not considering the soccer player’s well-being. However, focusing on that only makes us look in the wrong direction and allows the real problem to continue and grow.

A few years ago, I was working at the University of California San Francisco Children’s Hospital in Oakland, California in the Youth Sports Medicine Department leading a program that I created to prevent injuries and help young players in returning to competition. I took a year of injury data and did a simple analysis. What I found is as follows (the analysis was internal and never published).

  1. Most injuries were associated with a few highly competitive schools and clubs.

  2. The competitive season for each sport in the analysis was short with a big training load of 5 days a week plus games during about 3-4 months/per year.

  3. Most injuries happened when players transitioned from elementary school to middle school (6th grade), and from middle school to high school (9th grade)

  4. My understanding from creating the training and injuries history from some of the patients is that the most probable reason was the fast increment of load without considering the player's biological maturation, and real physical and technical capacity.

  5. Most injuries were the overuse type affecting soft tissues, tendon insertions, and bone periosteum.

We can then use the collected information on youth players and infer that what we are talking about in schools might happen also in competitive clubs. The change from juvenile categories to senior levels of competition brings again an increment in loads (https://www.spandrelanalytics.com/post/player-report-erling-haaland). Usually, young players that are promoted are considered “great players” and “ready to play in adult leagues”. However, the biological maturation might not be completed at the required adult level, the conditional capacity might not be ready to compete with adult bodies (soccer is a “combat game”!), the psychology might not be ready to tolerate a high volume of training and high-stress competition, and finally technical and tactical maturation might not be completed yet.

The few examples that were successful in the past (and we should discuss what “successful” means!), is enough to encourage every club to promote unfinished players to levels of training/competition without proper integral performance capacity evaluation and without considering the implementation of a “transitional” strategy.

If the trend is growing as the report clearly indicates, we can infer then that either nobody cares or the mediocrity at the professional level is also increasing because:

  1. The club can replace the player at any time.

  2. The insurance companies just increase the premiums and cover the cost.

  3. The league is just watching revenue, and injuries might not affect it.

  4. Coaches might lose team performance opportunities, but the team is big enough to replace them until they recover (if they ever recover!)

  5. Conditioning and auxiliary coaches clearly don’t know how to stop the trend.

  6. Players’ agents don’t understand how to prevent it therefore they are just spectators.

  7. Players believe in all their professional team members and, they have a contract that limits their decisions.

  8. The player’s parents (in the case of underage players) are just following the legal and professional team advice.

At the end of the day, the system follows the contracts, and the players are just actors in the show. But it can be both! We could take care of our players and still make money with rational and methodological models (https://www.spandrelanalytics.com/post/data-as-a-priority-requirement-for-the-development-of-the-soccer-player)


Spandrel Analytics is your expert support to uncover what you can’t see about your prospect's new hiring. We bring more than 30 years of experience in sports science and athlete development to provide analysis of the players that are under consideration for hiring. Also, the analysis of the current players in your teams to help you and your coaching staff to uncover performance aspects that can help design solutions for any unresolved limitations.





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