Preseason goals in elite football are diverse. On the one hand, it is about testing (alternating players in preparation or friendly matches, experimenting with various tactical approaches or game systems, etc.), “measuring forces with other teams” and developing the physical abilities of the players to prepare them in the best way possible for the demands of the season. The European elite teams tend to play a very long competition season (from August to May), with a previous short preparation period that usually lasts between 4 and 6 weeks. However, most of these clubs often take advantage of the preseason for promotional trips that can reduce the number of days available for training. Is there a relationship between the work teams do in preseason and the injuries they suffer during the rest of the year?
A recent publication1 has analysed how the number of training sessions performed by teams during the preseason influences the frequency of injuries and the players’ availability to compete during the season. The study, published in The American Journal of Sports Medicine in 2020, was based on the analysis of 44 elite teams from 13 different European countries for 15 consecutive seasons (2001/2002-2015/2016). The teams included in the study took part in the UEFA Champions League or the UEFA Europa League. The number of preseason sessions included the period from the first training session to the first official competition game. A member of each club’s medical staff recorded each player’s injuries and participation in training sessions and games. Injury-related problems were measured by means of 5 different indicators: (1) injury rate, (2) frequency of severe injuries, (3) attendance at training, (4) availability to compete and (5) frequency of injuries.
The results suggest some very relevant conclusions:
- The average number of training sessions performed by the teams during the preseason was 30 (ranging from 10 to 51 sessions). For all teams during the season, the average number of days lost was 140.6 for every 1000 hours of exposure, the frequency of severe injuries was 1.2 for every 1000 hours of exposure, attendance at training sessions was 82.1%, the availability to compete was 86.9%, and the frequency of injuries was 7.1 for every 1000 hours of exposure.
- A higher number of training sessions during the preseason was associated with a lower injury load during the season in 4 of the 5 measures related to injuries. Every 10 additional training sessions during the preseason reduced the average number of days lost due to injury by 22 per 1000 hours of exposure (P = 0.002), the frequency of severe injuries decreased by 0.24 injuries per 1000 hours of exposure (P = 0.015), training attendance was 1.4% higher (P = 0.014) and availability to compete was 1.0% higher (P = 0.042).
It seems that teams that do more training sessions in the preseason may reduce the risk of injury. In any case, the results should be taken with caution. It has not been controlled whether the players who completed the greatest number of sessions suffered the least injuries during the season. Besides, the type of session (physical, technical, tactical, preventive or recovery) and the intensity of the work have not been considered.
In summary, professional teams should design the preseason to have as many training sessions as possible and also train well. Reducing work time or doing it in conditions that are not suitable can increase the risk of injury during the following months. It is possible that in the reincorporation to the competition after the possible breaks by the COVID-19 we should also apply this preparation criteria.2
Carlos Lago Peñas
1 Ekstrand, J., Spreco, A., Windt, J., & Khan, K. (2020). Are Elite Soccer Teams’ Preseason Training Sessions Associated with Fewer In-Season Injuries? The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 48(3), 723-729.
2 BarçaInnovationHub. Los retos del deporte ante el COVID-19: entrenamiento, estadio y pérdidas. https://elearning.barcainnovationhub.com/es/los-retos-del-deporte-ante-el-covid-19-entrenamiento-estadios-y-perdidas/
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