A dangerous cocktail

A dangerous cocktail

MASERU-Competitive football is edging closer to its return with each passing day.
From next week Lesotho’s women’s national team, Mehalalitoe, will be in action at the Cosafa Women’s Championship which runs from November 3 to 14 in South Africa.

Soon afterwards the men’s side, Likuena, will feature in back-to-back Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers before the long-awaited return of the Econet Premier League.
It is an exciting time for football lovers but it is also a dangerous moment for the game’s main characters, the players.

After seven months of complete inactivity, players are being thrown back into the deep end with little time to prepare. It is a dangerous cocktail that is a recipe for injuries.
Generally, four to six weeks of training with gradual increases in intensity is required for players to be match-ready.
However, all around the world training programmes have been offset by Covid-19 restrictions which is forcing leagues to resume with limited preparations.

In Germany’s Bundesliga, for example, injury rates soared when matches resumed in May after some clubs only conducted three weeks of preparations. According to research, Bundesliga injuries went from a pre-lockdown average of 0.27 per game to a rate of 0.88 in the first round of games.

This is the situation Lesotho’s footballers now find themselves in.
Likuena started training about four weeks ago to prepare for next month’s crucial pair of AFCON qualifying games against Benin and they already are nursing injuries.
Many players are rusty and, most dangerously, unfit.
All through the lockdown players were not allowed to train and they were only allowed to resume outdoor training last month.

According to Likuena staff, players clocked low fitness stats when they returned and, although they have improved, the stats are not at a required level for competition.
Usually preseason lasts up to eight weeks and it is unsurprising that players are struggling with fitness and injuries, especially given they haven’t competed since March.

Speaking to thepost on Monday, Likuena’s biokineticist and corrective exercise specialist, Ntsie Mapetla, said injuries should be expected over the coming weeks as bodies adjust to the intensity of training and games.
Mapetla is part of Thabo Senong’s Likuena technical team and he works closely with team trainer Liteboho Mahase and physio Tanki Putsoane.

Mapetla deals with players that are transitioning from injury to full fitness once they are cleared by the physio. He also provides support to Mahase in the final phase of rehab which includes conditioning the players to return to pre-injury fitness.
Lesotho will play Benin away on November 9 before a return game in Maseru on November 17 and Mapetla has already been busy in the medical room.

“What helps the body is the game, the intensity of the game is very difficult to limit it so you can expect some injuries, even though it’s not what we want,” he said.
“Already there are injuries coming up in sessions mainly because we are trying to get back to the level we were,” he added.
Mapetla said the long-layoff presents a challenge because players also have to be pushed to regain peak fitness.
“The most important thing is to manage your training programmes,” Mapetla said.

“(The players) have not been playing for six months and, therefore, we have to push them harder which will sometimes take them time to get used to. We manage the intensity of training.
“Sometimes you slow the training a bit so that their bodies can recover which is essential to make sure you increase their fitness levels but you don’t over-train them. The biggest way (to avoid injuries) is to manage how they train.”

Although some players spent time in the gym, Mapetla said being off the field is detrimental for footballers because there is no substitute for skills such as tackling, kicking, sprinting and pivoting.
He insisted that while it is fine to get into the gym for strength, the most important thing is to train with the ball and be on the field.

Mapetla said injury detection and prevention in Lesotho must also improve.
In Lesotho the game is not as physical with fewer sliding tackles, for example, so broken bones are rare. The injuries that occur usually involve muscles and ligaments.
However, detection of these injuries is poor. Injuries are not detected early and they can become career-damaging.

This situation is risky for players as they also don’t receive the same injury care as players in other countries.
Mapetla used the example of Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk who suffered an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) knee injury two weekends ago. Even though, the defender is facing a long layoff, he is expected to return to full health which would not be guaranteed here in Lesotho.

“The problem here at home is managing the injuries early. Most injuries have a standard time-frame. For example, Virgil van Dijk of Liverpool; he suffered an ACL injury which takes anywhere from six to eight months, (and) sometimes even 12 months to heal fully.
“But, because they are at a high level, they saw it immediately and don’t be shocked four months down the line when you hear he is training already because they caught it early,” Mapetla said.

“Here at home, you get an injury and by the time you get on it you realise the player is damaged long-term, we are now playing with someone who has lost a little bit of their skill or agility, simply because he didn’t manage his injury on time,” he said.

For now, Mapetla’s focus is on Likuena’s double header against Benin and he said the fitness department plays a big role in the team’s preparations for games as they work closely with head coach Senong and take into consideration what he wants from the players.
Senong’s game-plans and tactics also determine the approach of the fitness team. Mapetla said he takes instructions from Senong and everything they do comes down to what the coach needs.

“The coach is my boss, everything starts with him, he will say, ‘this is how I want to play, this is the type of system I am playing, these are the tactics and I need these players’ and then you help prepare players accordingly, given the coach’s needs,” Mapetla said.
“Some teams will play counterattack, they sit deep and quickly attack, so speed will be the big element to take into consideration. Some (teams) are possession based, so the players have to be fit and continuously moving around (and) other aspects become more important.”

Tlalane Phahla

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