How 4 UEFA Teams Prevent Injuries and Lessons They Teach

Mar 1, 2023

Although the rest of the world is catching up, Europe still dominates when it comes to soccer performance (Argentina may say otherwise!) and investment. And that’s why European teams provide a masterclass in injury management, especially regular attendees at the UEFA Champions League. 

From state-of-the-art facilities to innovative training programs, they provide lessons on how to prevent and minimize injuries, lessons youth coaches and players should learn. Here’s an insider look at these injury-prevention methods. 

Manchester Utd. 

From 2011 to 2019, Dr. Robin Thorpe served as Manchester United’s Head of Recovery and Regeneration, a position that would only exist on a team like Man U. Fancy title aside, his job was to help players manage fatigue and avoid soccer injuries, using the most innovative methods possible. 

Monitoring player fatigue

  • Thorpe’s team used subjective ratings to describe players’ level of fatigue and soreness, as well as their sleep quality.
  • They examined players’ range of motion (ROM), as well pain levels in the ROM for their groin and hamstrings.
  • The team took cardiac measurements, such as heart-rate variability, heart-rate recovery, and sub maximal heart rate, all of which indicate nervous system efficiency during performances. 

Recovery protocols for players 

  • Thorpe’s team would use low-level cycling or foam rolling to help players increase blood flow and range of motion. 
  • Athletes who were still sore would take ice baths (cold water immersion), while other players who were more “recovered” underwent hot water immersion therapy. 
  • Takeaways for youth and amateur coaches

    Use a combination of subjective (“how does it feel”) and objective (digital tracking) measurements to understand your players’ fitness. This gives a comprehensive picture of their well-being. Also, don’t subject all players to the same recovery protocols. Prescribe recovery plans that align with an individual’s current state of fitness. 

    FC Barcelona

    “In contemporary professional football, we are moving away from the thought that preventing muscle injury means simply implementing specific exercises but rather looking at it as a more holistic strategy that is multifaceted.” That’s part of FC Barcelona’s philosophy, a sensible one that youth coaches should adopt. The La Liga powerhouse uses a mix of strategies to help their players avoid common soccer injuries.

    Controlling training load

    • FC Barca trainers measure variables, such as heart rates, perceived effort and exertion, as well as the number accelerations versus decelerations during training sessions.
    • They may also examine muscle damage, hormone levels, and immune response via blood and saliva samples (although this isn’t feasible for most amateur or semi-pro teams).
    • The team uses training response data for players to make sure  training loads don’t exceed 15 percent more volume than the previous week (to decrease injury risk). 

    Recovery protocols for players 

    • FC Barca trainers recommend precise protein and carbohydrate dosages (through meals), especially after meals to promote muscle recovery as well as proper hydration. Players are also encouraged to get eight to ten hours of sleep. 
    • Trainers recommend massage and compression gear to enhance muscle recovery and blood flow.
    • Trainers employ a mix of soccer conditioning drills (bodyweight), weight training, plyometrics, and dynamic stretching.  

    Takeaway for youth and amateur teams

    Never overload your players with training and games! Assess their current fitness levels, and gradually increase their training over time, measuring how their body responds to the increases. Add a mix of exercises, and don’t forget the basics of sleep and nutrition. Compression and massage (or percussion therapy) are proven recovery methods players (especially older ones) can rely on for recovery.  

    Bayern Munich

    Bayern Munich hasn’t had the best of luck when it comes to injuries. The team has often had bouts of multiple injuries, costing them victories as their seasons progressed. But they’re fighting back with new prevention strategies youth and amateur teams can rely on as well. 

    Monitor players in real-time 

    • Bayern Munich staff use heart monitors that deliver heart rate info to coaches on an iPad. 

    Injury prevention protocol  

    • If a player’s heart rate goes too high during a training session, they’re taken out to rest (since high heart rate may indicate a higher risk of injury). 

    Takeaway for youth and amateur coaches

    Monitor your players in real-time and make quick adjustments, especially if their performance suggests their training load is too high. Smart watches and fitness trackers can allow for such measurement—just make sure your devices are technically sound enough to provide accurate data. 

    AC Milan

    Back in 2007, AC Milan made it to the Champions League final with the oldest team on record—that average age stood at thirty-four years and thirty-one days old. They also won that year. Much credit is due to the Milan Lab, a sports science project launched in 2002. Its purpose was to help players, especially aging ones, to reduce injury risks and extend their longevity. Milan’s top stars went on to play in their late thirties and early forties, including ones who had nagging injuries years earlier. The project would eventually shut down and reopen, but their techniques are worth highlighting.  

    Collect player data

    • Before prescribing any preventative measures, AC Milan’s staff collected plenty of data on players to help predict what injuries they were at risk for.

    Injury-reduction measures

    • Under the direction of Belgian chiropractor Jean-Pierre Meersseman players underwent testing in the areas of kinesiology, neurology, and psychology to prevent or address injuries.  

    Takeaway for youth and amateur coaches

    Assess player performance not just to see how fit they are, but what injuries they may be at risk for. Such assessments may include monitoring biomechanics (how players move) under training stress. That may require outside professional guidance. 

    Also, don’t be afraid to suggest non-traditional fitness methods, provided they’re safe, age-appropriate, and carry minimal risk. That may include alternative therapies that improve posture, movement, and mental toughness. 

    Preventing soccer injuries is an art and science

    Too many teams at the youth and amateur level treat injury prevention in soccer as an afterthought, 

    but it deserves priority. The four teams mentioned above have enjoyed elite success largely because they invest in building injury-resistant players. 

    True, most youth and amateur teams don’t have access to high-tech facilities and industry-leading medical experts. But methods such as data collection, compression gear, nutrition and sleep protocols, and exercise regimens are accessible to most teams now, especially with technology. Stay tuned for an upcoming post to learn how you can apply these methods for your team. 

    Looking for more tips on safety and performance in soccer? Check out our blog for more insights.
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