Note: The following post also appears as an article on the website of the Charleston Battery professional soccer team.
The Charleston Battery soccer team plays for the 2012 USL PRO championship Saturday night. Despite a somewhat tumultuous conclusion to the regular season, winning only two of their final 11 games, they battled through two rounds of playoff games. Now they are one win away from the team’s second title in three years.
Do injuries occur more often late in the season?
This improbable run caused me to wonder what toll these extra games take on the bodies of the players. Obviously there are extra games to play. 15-minute overtime periods, which aren’t an issue during the regular season, are often necessary as well.
The physical exertion isn’t limited to games either. Three rounds of playoff games also mean three extra weeks of near daily practices. And for teams struggling to merely make the playoffs, the final regular-season games are crucial. Like the Battery did in those final games, teams are often forced to play their starters instead of resting them like top teams can often do.
Could muscle fatigue lead to injuries?
In theory, it makes sense that injuries would be more likely at the end of the season. Athletes often start to fatigue after months of training and competition. Maybe muscle fatigue and weakness would change the mechanics and form slightly and cause injuries.
Compare this idea with that of skiing injuries. We often assume that injuries in snow skiing occur late in the day and toward the end of ski trips. Skiers get tired after hours and days on the slopes. Their form struggles as muscle fatigue makes it difficult to change directions quickly at top speeds. This lack of control leads to crashes, and subsequently, injuries.
What does scientific data on soccer injuries show?
I looked at current research with respect to soccer injuries. It turns out that this hypothesis actually is false. Studies looking injuries in African professional soccer and French youth soccer both show that injuries are more common earlier in the season. Interestingly, injuries do appear to occur more often toward the end of games and in extra time, regardless of timing within the season.
I have no doubt every player on the Battery – and other sports teams fortunate enough to qualify for the postseason, for that matter – would tell me the added practices, games, and injury risk are worth it. Championships are usually one of the main reasons athletes play year after year. I wish the Battery players, and athletes everywhere lucky enough to play for titles, success – both on the scoreboard and out of the training room.