Soccer fans might know some of the factors that play a large part on injuries in the sport. We know that tackling causes about half of the injuries that occur in matches. Fouls and dirty play cause more than 10% of injuries. And rates of injuries increase dramatically when teams play more than one match per week.
Now there is evidence that the location of the match, the result (win, loss or draw), and the level of competition affect injuries as well.
A study recently published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine provides some fascinating data on those factors in European professional soccer. Hakar Bengtsson and colleagues collected information on matches and injuries from 26 professional clubs in 10 countries over 9 seasons. They analyzed the 2738 injuries that occurred in the 6010 matches and made some observations on those injuries.
While it is hard to make a cause-and-effect argument, I have some ideas on why these factors might influence injuries as they do.
Injuries are more common in home matches than away matches.
It’s possible that teams play more aggressively at home than they do on the road. It has been shown that home teams take more shots on goal, possess the ball more, and control the ball in their attacking zone more than the away teams. Maybe this attacking style of play leads to more injuries.
Injuries are more common in more important competitions.
Players and teams might play with more intensity in the prestigious competitions, like national and international tournaments. Also, given the importance of these competitions, coaches might be inclined to allow players with mild injuries to play. If the players haven’t fully recovered, they might aggravate the injuries again.
Injury rates are higher in matches that result in a loss or draw than in a win.
Specifically, the odds of two or more injuries in a match rise significantly in matches that result in a loss or draw.
The score in a match affects how teams play. If their team is losing, players might push harder to level the scores or pull out wins. On the other hand, teams with the lead might play more conservatively to protect their leads. Players might attempt fewer intense moves and activities. Quite possibly that shift in play could decrease injuries.
The odds of losing or drawing in a match increase when a team suffers two or more injuries.
The easy explanation would be the effect of losing two or more players in a match. Substitutes for those players would arguably be less skilled, decreasing the chances of those teams winning. Even if the injuries are mild and don’t force substitutions, the injured players might be less effective on the field.
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This last finding interests me most. Again, a cause-and-effect relationship is hard to establish. But if injuries in a match could be proven to make the chances of losing greater, maybe coaches would invest more time and resources into injury prevention efforts. Teams could more reliably perform injury prevention exercises every day. Coaches might lobby the leagues to spread matches out or try to get players days or matches off.
Do these findings surprise you? If so, which ones? And do you have thoughts on why location, level of competition, or results might affect injuries? Share your thoughts below!
Bengtsson H, Ekstrand J, Walden M, Hagglund M. Match Injury Rates in Professional Soccer Vary With Match Result, Match Venue, and Type of Competition. Am J Sports Med. Published online before print April 30, 2013.