FIFPro Chief Medical Officer Dr. Vincent Gouttebarge discusses the issue of match scheduling, the impact it can have on players’ health and safety and why three days must be the minimum break between games.

Q. What is the optimal time for recovery between matches?

VG: You have to be aware when you are looking at the training and competition load of athletes, of cumulative exposure over the season. That means you have to take into account the whole calendar and consider how long someone will be exposed to physical activity.

We know that from a physiological point of view, that approximately three days, 72 hours, is more or less accepted in sports science as the minimum recovery time when it comes to intense effort. Anything less is just too short, both in terms of performance and injury.

In the Champions League in Europe they have been following the competition for a decade and they have found that there was an association between the number of matches lost when players had short periods of recovery. In terms of injury they also found that the rate of injury also increased during league matches when a player had only four or fewer days of recovery.

A recent study, which took into account two seasons looked at the recovery time between matches, and found that three to four days was sufficient time to recover in terms of your level of physical performance, but it was not long enough to in terms of injury risk.

Q. PFA members who play in the Socceroos, Matildas and A-League undertake extensive travel. What impact does this have on recovery post match?

VG: From the PFA Injury Report of last season we saw that the injury problem is still there, despite the introduction of better medical standards. Extensive travel seems to be a relevant factor in this, because when you look at air travel, there are many relevant factors, including jet lag, lack of sleep and traveling influences the nutritional habits of players’ as you are not eating in the same way and at the same time.

Q. You have written on game intensity rising across the world. Should that be taken into account in terms of match scheduling?

VG: If you look at the development of professional football you see a big increase in the intensity of games but you also see the clubs are getting more and more professional and they are getting better at monitoring the load and offering better recovery for the players. It is really important to have a really good balance between the load and the recovery, to minimize the risk of injury and to empower the performance of the players.

Again here it is more or less cumulative exposure that needs to be taken into account and you need to give the players minimum three days rest between matches to avoid a high risk of injury.

Q. Does extreme heat have an impact on a player’s ability to recover from a match?

VG: It is the same as travel, all these environmental and external issues have an impact on the health of the players and their speed of recovery. When you are playing in hot conditions your body needs to work even harder to keep all the systems working. This needs to be taken into account when players have played in extreme heat and players should have a longer recovery.

Q. This season we saw a mid-season break for the A-League due to the Asian Cup. Is there merit in this from a recovery perspective for the players?

VG: My answer from normal thinking is that of course it would be favorable to give the players what we call a de-training period during the season in order to allow them to recover physically and mentally, but it is a tricky one because in terms of research in this area there is not a lot on this. However, it is logical to assume that a mid-season break would be beneficial.

Q. Are there leagues around the world implementing strategies to assist in scheduling?

VG: We are still seeing a lot of players all over the world playing a lot of matches in really short space of time. There needs to be common sense approach that is guided by the science.

Q. From a club perspective, what are key strategies to assist with recovery?

VG: Massage, ice bath and water immersion have been really well developed and two or three months ago I invited a colleague of mine who is doing a study into the area of recovery and he showed us a project that was just like a t-shirt or pants but with a different structure and it has a connection with water that is cooled and circulated around your body to cool it. We are making really good strides.

Q. Finally, how important is it that the players are involved in discussions regarding scheduling?

VG: For any issues in professional football you have to have all stakeholders at the table. One of the stakeholders that has often not been involved is the player, they have to be involved in all issues that have an impact on their workplace and their performance.

Many thanks to FIFPro Chief Medical Officer, Dr Vincent Gouttebarge, for his time.