9 tips from a qualified physiotherapist on how to avoid injuries 

We spoke to qualified physiotherapist Kjell-Egil Bogfjellmo Haug, a physio at the Homeless World Cup in Cardiff in 2019 and Mexico in 2018, to find out how players can avoid injury. Here are his key tips.

Kjell-Egil with the Physio team at the Homeless World Cup in Cardiff, 2019 Credit: Daniel Lipinski

1. Warm-up is key 

Players need a thorough warm up before kicking the ball. According to Kjell-Egil, one Norwegian university found risk of injury was reduced by nearly 50% when players completed a proper warm up. A varied warm up which prepares a player’s body for what they’ll be doing on the pitch is key to players being prepared. This means moving forwards, backwards, side to side, diagonally, while also shifting intensity to incorporate faster speeds. Kjell-Egil says start with lower intensity and build up to sprints. Also warm up without the ball first, making sure players bodies and muscles are warm before starting to shoot and pass the ball. 

Credit: Daniel Lipinski

2. Vary your training

The temptation in the run up to a tournament especially can be to always play a game at 100% effort but Kjell-Egil says having a variety of activities and intensity is key to good training and helps to prevent injuries. Doing too much too fast is one of the main causes of injury, so build up the sessions slowly. Variation is also important for strength work, and it is important to make sure you are strengthening all of the muscles in your extremities. As an example, you should not only strengthen your hamstrings but focus on all of the muscles in your legs. Here are some exercises you can do and incorporate into your warm-ups. 

Credit: Anita Milas

3. Footwear

Only wear football shoes when playing football. Both before and after matches, players should wear jogging trainers rather than football shoes. As the Homeless World Cup often takes place in city locations; it can be difficult to find a field or grass to warm up on. Instead, players often need to warm up on tarmac or hard ground. This means it’s important to have adequate support from your shoes when warming up as football shoes offer less cushioning and support.

Credit: Paul Bence

4. Before a tournament

It’s two to three weeks before the tournament, that’s the time to pack in long training sessions and push it really hard, isn’t it? Kjell-Egil says it’s the opposite. Overtraining to make up for missed sessions can result in injuries. Training programmes should allow for two to three weeks to wind down before the tournament begins. The main aim in the weeks before the tournament is to avoid injury. The best way of doing this is by lowering the total physical load of the players, doing either lower intensity sessions or fewer sessions with medium intensity to allow the muscles to recover and be fresh and ready for when the whistle goes for the first match.

5. During a tournament

You’re in a brand-new city and all you want to do is explore, the risk of this is walking for hours and not allowing your muscles to rest. Rest during the Homeless World Cup is vital as there are a high number of games being played in a short period of time. You can explore, but make sure you take some breaks to sit down, why not watch the other games that are going on? Before the games, make sure players are doing a proper warm up (see Kjell-Egil’s tips above) and are drinking and eating enough. (See Hydration and nutrition for more detail on this.)

6. Hydration and nutrition

Kjell-Egil told us the story of one player who came to the physio tent after fainting during the Homeless World Cup. When asked have you drunk enough, he replied, “Yes of course, I’ve had three coffees”. Suddenly it all made sense. Coffee, because of the caffeine found in it, is a diuretic which can make you need the toilet more frequently. As a result, the player was really dehydrated. When you’re exercising you need to replenish both your liquid and salt levels, being particularly careful to do this in hot weather. Drink coffee or tea, but don’t treat it as a replacement for water.

7. After a tournament

Now it’s time to put your feet up. You’ve had a packed programme of a week of fast paced intense games and your body needs time to recover. In the following two to three weeks after the tournament run lower intensive sessions allowing people to recover and avoid risk of injury from overuse. Kjell-Egil suggests going for walks with players and taking the opportunity to debrief on the tournament, finding out what their highlights and low points were and how they’re going to keep motivation going forward. 

8. Developing health literacy

Understanding what causes injuries can be one of the most important ways of preventing them. Also knowing when to rest, drink water and what impact this can have on your ability as a player. For some players, Kjell-Egil explains, their interaction with a physio at the Homeless World Cup may be their first interaction with a medical professional. It’s important to support players with injuries and help them to understand the impact it might have. It can be helpful to come to the physio tent with the player to help explain. Kjell-Egil says by taking 5 minutes to get to know a player and understand them as a person, it helps to provide better care. 

Credit: Daniel Lipinski

Some players may be unaware of the severity of an existing injury. For example, one player had a severe back injury and was told by doctors to rest until it had fully healed. However, she was not aware of the severity and continued playing, which meant she had to be rushed to hospital as the injury recurred. Another example is a player who had a double hip replacement. In the early/medium phase of rehabilitation, certain movements need to be restricted. However, during the tournament, one of the hips dislocated and the player had to be rushed to hospital. Kjell-Egil explains that from a physio’s perspective, this player should not have been playing at this stage in their rehabilitation. Playing football at to this level and complying to movement restrictions is impossible.

9. Supporting players with injuries

Being injured is very isolating and can have a negative impact on someone’s mental health, which can lead to falling back into negative and unhealthy habits. Outside tournament time, when a player is struggling with an injury, keep them involved, giving them an opportunity to support with training maybe by helping to coach other players. This will help them to keep up with any new drills or training activities you introduce. Being part of the coaching team could also help them to set an example to other players if they find themselves struggling with injuries in the future. Doing the rehabilitation programme/exercises at the training while the other players train normally could further set an example for the other players, and the injured player could feel involved in the team despite the injury. The majority of injuries can heal quickly with rest and strengthening exercises. They also heal faster the sooner the problem is addressed, so encouraging players to look after their bodies and tackle injuries quickly will help to prevent lasting damage.

Credit: Daniel Lipinski

Now you know some tips about how to lower the risk of injuries and can help build variety into your training programmes to get your teams ready for the next Homeless World Cup! Thank you again to Kjell-Egil Bogfjellmo Haug for his helpful advice.