Injuries are the worst. We all hate them. For a lack of better words, seeing your teammate or player sidelined by an injury sucks. Not to mention, it isn’t a fun experience for the athlete themselves.
Some injuries are unavoidable. Many injuries are part of the game and they come with the territory of competitive sport. However, others are often due to a lack of planning or structure around training and practices. It’s why more and more coaches and trainers are adopting a more personalized approach to their athletes and training. Spending a meticulous amount of time structuring a plan for the team and individual.
How does this relate to return to play during the circumstances we find ourselves in? Well, much of the world has been shut down for the past three months. No organized sport, no group training sessions, no televised sporting events and lots of social distancing parameters. As nations across the globe begin to revise their restrictions, guidelines are being put in place to ensure the health and safety of individuals across all professions and demographics. The same needs to be true for sports organizations and teams. And not just in terms of COVID 19 guidelines and practices, but how training and practices are progressed in order to be game-ready. Numerous sporting organizations from athletics to hockey have come out with guidelines to ensure the safety of their athletes relating to COVID-19. But what about injuries?
On May 16th, 2020, the major German professional soccer league, the Bundesliga resumed play. From the beginning of lockdown, 37 athletes have been sidelined for an extended period of time with injuries (still on the disabled list). However, 28 of those injuries appeared once games resumed. 25 of the 28 injuries were listed as a musculoskeletal injury. For example, a calf strain, back problems, muscle tear, medial cruciate ligament rupture, etc. The loss of some of these players is considerable, impact players like Thiago and Niklas Süle of FC Bayern Munich will be sidelined for the foreseeable future. Needless to say, these injuries are not good for the players themselves, but also their teams and fans. Injuries require considerable rehab, as well as a protocol to get game-ready again.
The most common sports injuries when it comes to returning to play, as seen in the Bundesliga, are musculoskeletal. With muscle strains and tears being significantly prevalent, along with ligament strains and tears (i.e. ankle and knee). Therefore, the case needs to be made to implement strategies to help athletes return to play safely, not just concerning COVID 19. And it shouldn’t stop at the professional or elite level, strategies need to be implemented across the board – from the professionals to the Pop Warner football leagues. While we try to lower the risk of COVID 19 infection, we must also manage the risk of injuries.
In the same way that there is a step-by-step plan for an injured athlete to return to play, there needs to be a plan of return to play post-COVID-19 restrictions. Take preseason training. There is a systematic progressive increase in the type of training, intensity, frequency and volume. The same needs to be considered when returning to play following COVID 19.
Not only does the type of training, intensity, frequency and volume also need to be considered, but also how governmental guidelines fit into the sport and play. More waivers and information will need to be provided to participants, parents, teams, organizations and governing bodies, in order to protect others, as well as the joy of play.
Time will tell how sports return at the amateur and recreational level. The NBA is set to begin COVID-19 testing on June 22nd and training camp on June 30th. The 2020 NBA season is then expected to restart on July 31st in Orlando, Florida. While the NHL has announced plans to begin training camp on July 10th for 24 teams. What is seen at the elite level will trickle down to the amateur and recreational level. With that comes the necessary guidelines and tools for organizations and teams to return to play safely and gradually.