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Playing the game isn’t enough to develop the fitness required for peak performance and injury prevention.   If you’re not already, now is the time to start preparing your players for a safe, successful and enjoyable season.  It doesn’t matter how good a player is, if they’re not fit, or they get injured, they won’t perform at their best, if at all. And if one player's performance suffers, the team's performance suffers.

Following the 10-step action plan below will help you get the most out of your players and help them have long, safe and enjoyable careers:

Player Profiles ensure that factors that may increase a player's injury risk are addressed in your training, e.g. if they have a history of ankle injuries. They allow progress to be monitored and goals to be set which helps motivation. They can also help guide their return from injury or illness.

A thorough Warm-up and Cool-down is crucial to prepare the body for the activity to come, this time and next time. The most important thing is to gradually increase body temperature and then get the body in to the positions it will need to adopt during play. Jogging, side-stepping, skipping, etc, followed by dynamic stretches (leg swings, walking lunges, etc.) is ideal. Ball work and then some higher intensity movement should then follow. Build up to maximal sprinting gradually and don’t let anyone take shots on goal until they're all fully warmed-up.

After play, some light jogging and static stretches will reduce muscle soreness later and start the preparation for the next game or training session.

Fitness Facts tell us that the best players in the world are also the fittest players in the world and that most goals are scored in the last part of the game when players begin to tire. Fitness affects the ability to cover the ground required but also decision making and recovery between hard efforts and between games. Pre-season is the best time to work on fitness – particularly endurance (stamina/aerobic fitness), muscle strength and flexibility.

The best Technique is a safe technique. Make sure your players know how to head the ball and tackle, safely and effectively, and then practice regularly.

Over a third of injuries are the result of foul play so make Fair Play compulsory in your teams and at your club, to avoid giving away needless free kicks or having players sent off. Perhaps get your players to write their own Code of Conduct.

Protective Equipment will help keep every one on the pitch safe. Make shin pads compulsory in training as well as in games - both to prevent needless injuries and also to get players used to how they will have to compete. Shin pads can reduce the force of a blow to the leg by up to 70%, which could be the difference between a bruise and a fracture. Also make sure that your players footwear is suitable for the surface and the activity – they should play in boots, run in running shoes, x-train in x-trainers.

Fuel the Engine means putting the right food and fluid in the body to help it perform during play and recover quickly afterwards. Football players need plenty of carbohydrates (from things like pasta, rice and potatoes), protein (from fish, chicken, lean meat and dairy products) and only a little bit of fat. If the body has to use fat for energy, it only performs at around 50-60% of it’s best.  Encourage players to drink regularly throughout the day and not just before and after play. Water is usually best.

You can help Solve the Puzzle of how football injuries are caused by keeping a record of when and how your players injuries occur and by responding to requests for information if you’re asked.

Check the Environment every time you train and play. As well as making sure the pitch is safe (no sharp objects, no big holes, goal posts fixed etc.), you need to check that you and your players are prepared for the weather. In the heat, everyone needs loose fitting clothing, a cap (if possible), sunscreen and plenty of cool fluids. In the cold and/or wet, plenty of layers and a spare set of clothing are needed to change in to as soon as possible.

Some injuries will inevitably occur but if we Treat Injuries Quickly , we can reduce the damage and discomfort. During the first 2 days, use RICED – Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation and get a Diagnosis asap. For the first 3 days, the player should avoid HARM-ful factors – Heat, Alcohol, Running (or other exercise) and Massage. Contact your Federation for details of 1st Aid and SMOSS (Sideline Management of Strains and Sprains) courses running in your region this season.

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