At a certain moment in the rehab process a player will and must be introduced to the real thing, the game. He will start to play minutes, but how many minutes will he play in his first game(s)? How can we progress if everything goes according to plan? These are only two of many questions rehab coaches, but also head coaches must ask themselves to ensure a safe return to play with no setback.
As with the whole rehab process The rehab process every aspect of this process is done gradually and structurally. Therefore it should come as no surprise that game minutes are introduced in the same manner. Of course deviation from the plan is necessary when situations ask for it. But you need a plan to start from, otherwise you deviate from nothing, which ends in chaos.
The player has, more or less, gone through the following sequence in his rehab process;
– Treatment by medical staff
– Strength training
– Home trainer/treadmill
– Running- and coordination training
– Interval running exercises
– Football circuits/floater in possession- and/or underload games
– Football conditioning games
– Football match with his first game minutes
This process is of course individually Individual Periodisation/Blog facilitated. Some aspects, like strength training, continue while already playing games. But most important, all aspects are driven by the The interval principle., because the game of football is an interval sport. The interval principle ensures a more game related rehabilitation. The law of specificity is, as always, key here.
A player coming back from for example an ACL injury will not start his first game playing 90 minutes. A safe introduction is 20 minutes as a substitute. Let´s assume his first minutes went well. Since everything progresses gradually he will play only 20 minutes the week after. In week 3 and 4 the player is introduced to 45 minutes. The next two weeks, week 5 and 6, he will play 65 minutes. And only in week 7 he is introduced to his first 90 minutes Game minutes . A player who hasn´t played a full game of football for about 10 to 11 months will accumulate more fatigue then a fully fit player during these games. When you accumulate more fatigue you will also need more recovery time. If you introduce this player to midweek games for example, while still recovering from his first 90 minutes, you are asking for trouble. Accumulation of fatigue and in need of more recovery time means that the player will start a midweek game not fully recovered. By doing so you increase the chance of a new injury. The same can be said with the football conditioning part in the middle of the week.
After a players first couple of matches it basically means two things:
1. He will not join the conditioning session in the middle of the week and 2. He will not play midweek games if there are any.
The rehab player will therefore only play one 90 minute game per week for about 4-6 weeks. Assuming all goes well and his recovery after his first couple of games is normal, he can then be introduced to midweek games. The same build-up rule applies when introducing players to midweek game minutes, start with 20 minutes twice, etc. One small step for man, one giant leap for the player.
A normal rehabilitation period after an ACL injury is about 9 month. It is of course tempting to state, from a medical point of view, that return to play should be delayed to at least 1 year after surgery or even longer. But how realistic is that, especially at high level sports?
You come a long way with a gradual and structural approach. A bit of common sense also helps.
Thanks for sharing.
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