Football is a sport that has captivated millions of fans around the world. However, the increasing volume of games that football players are expected to play each year has led to a correlation between this and the frequency of injuries, often of increased severity, that players are experiencing. In this article, we will explore this trend and its impact on both youth football and the top level of the game.
Youth Football and Injuries
Young footballers who demonstrate high potential during their youth development often fail to succeed at the top level, and injuries are a significant cause of this. Youth football is a high-pressure environment where many players battle through injuries to avoid showing weakness, which can worsen the issue and lead to long-term “niggles” or injuries. It is not uncommon for youth players to suffer serious injuries that can hinder their development.
Injuries and Causes
Footballers are susceptible to injuries such as Anterior Cruciate Ligament ruptures, broken legs or ankles, muscle tears, strains, or “pulls” in calves, thighs, hamstrings, groins, and achilles. These injuries are becoming more frequent as players are demanded to participate in more games and intense training. The number of games per year is increasing, with some leagues requiring teams to play on a Saturday and then a Tuesday almost every week. In other cases, one league may play once a week, but the teams will also participate in a cup competition played during the midweek. Half of these fixtures are typically “away” from home, which requires a lot of traveling and mental and physical exertion.
This places a heavy demand on players, mentally and physically, and their body is required to perform at an optimum level with insufficient recovery time. Fitness and conditioning can only go so far. Footballers are not superhumans, and their muscles, joints, brains, bones, and ligaments are subject to intense demands that can lead to injury.
The evidence of this rise is demonstrated when we consider how many games some global superstars have played over the last few years. For example, in 2020-21, Bruno Fernandes played 73 games and was closely followed by Mason Mount with 69. In the same year, the 18-year-old Pedri exemplified the issue by playing 73 games, equaling Fernandes’ record. It was no surprise that Pedri was then forced to miss the beginning of the 2021-22 season with a thigh muscle injury, having had almost no time off from football before the season began.
The Impact on Youth Football
The rising number of games played each year is having an impact on youth football. Many young players are playing too many games, which can lead to physical burnout and long-term injuries. It is crucial to remember that youth footballers’ bodies are still maturing and developing, making them more susceptible to injuries. Additionally, youth footballers are often fearful of showing weakness and asking to rest as it may tarnish the opinion of their coach and damage their chances of success in the academy system.
Football is a demanding sport, and players are required to play an increasing number of games each year. The correlation between the rising volume of games and the frequency of injuries, often of increased severity, is concerning. It is essential to monitor players’ physical and mental health, ensuring that they have sufficient recovery time and are not pushed beyond their limits. Injuries can have a significant impact on a player’s career, and it is crucial to ensure that they are not playing too many games, particularly at a young age. We must prioritize player welfare, which will lead to better performance and a more sustainable future for the sport.