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Study examines links between training and injury in elite youth football

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New research has shown that footballers´ workloads during training and competition can help predict their risk of injury.

Southampton Football Club teamed up with the University of Birmingham to analyse the performance of youth players and observe the links between training and injury.

The researchers used GPS technology and accelerometers to track players´ speed and acceleration in both training and competition. The equipment gathered player performance data on total distance covered; distance covered at high speed; total load/forces experienced; and short bursts of speed.

This data was then analysed in relation to ‘recordable injuries´, which caused an absence from football activity — classified as mild, moderate or severe — of anything from a couple of days to several weeks.

The findings, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, show that the greatest injury risk occurred when players accumulated a very high number of short bursts of speed during training over a three-week period.

The study found that:

  • High level of acceleration over a three-week training period was the strongest indicator of overall and non-contact injury risk;
  • High total distance (over 112km) covered over a four-week period and high weekly total loads significantly increased the risk of overall and non-contact injuries;
  • Moderate-to-high levels of distance covered at high speed resulted in higher overall and non-contact injury incidence; and
  • Very high weekly total loads and intense levels of short bursts of speed were significantly related to a higher risk of contact injury.


According to lead researcher Laura Bowen, First Team Data Scientist at Southampton FC, the results of the study demonstrate that high, excessive workloads are associated with the greatest injury risk.

“However, when the players were exposed to these high loads progressively, over a period of time, the risk of injury reduced significantly,” Bowen explained.

The findings suggest that training should be organised so that distance covered at high speed and total load/forces experienced fluctuate across a four-week period, with both high and low workloads achieved.

Young elite footballers who can safely train harder may develop greater resilience and tolerance for the increasing intensity and fatigue of competition, the researchers said.