Athens medical symposium highlights important role of football medicine

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“The Importance of Medicine in Football” was the main theme of the 7th UEFA Medical Symposium in Athens, a three-day event which brought together medical experts from UEFA's 55 member associations and the continent’s leading clubs.

In his welcome message, UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin, stressed the “significance of such a stimulating and informative symposium” for European football’s medical family and underlined the “high importance that UEFA places on the health of the players”. He also pointed out that “medicine and scientific research are extremely important in football” and welcomed “the amazing work done by the doctors and medical staff in their own associations and clubs”.

The president of the Hellenic Football Federation (EPO) Evangelos Grammenos was among those to speak at the event. In his message, he emphasised the special honour bestowed upon the association to organise this highly important scientific conference in Greece. “Football is now more than a game. It operates on a very high level, within highly demanding and competitive conditions”, he said. “The provision of high-level medical services is a top priority, and the performance and recovery of the players depend on the high scientific level of support provided by experienced professionals”, he added.

In his address, UEFA Medical Committee chairman Dr Michel D'Hooghe, drew attention to the fact that over the last few years, “football medicine has continued to develop.” “It has increased in complexity, and at the same time has become more and more integrated within a larger system with the overall aim of keeping players performing at their best, he said.” Dr D'Hooghe added that there are numerous different things that have to be taken into consideration in regards to a player’s well-being, such as nutrition and physiotherapy, while the importance of communication and leadership styles also “contribute directly to the overall team performance and success.”

The head of UEFA's medical and anti-doping department Marc Vouillamoz offered an insight into the work of the medical unit at European football's governing body over the last four years, while UEFA’s medical and anti-doping administration staff provided the delegates with an update of UEFA’s football doctor education and anti-doping programmes.

The symposium included presentations from guests and speakers on a variety of topics, such as concussion management, injury rehabilitation, nutrition, player well-being, and female-specific injuries.. Also highlighted was the UEFA Elite Club Injury Study led by Professor Jan Ekstrand, who has been in charge of the project since it started in 2001. The injury study has shown there is a correlation between injuries and team performance – teams with lower injury rates perform better in both domestic and European competitions, making injury prevention a key part of performance strategies. Professor Ekstrand presented his findings of a recent study on the impact of coaches’ leadership styles on injuries.

The symposium concluded with a panel discussion based around the topic of the importance of medicine in football. The panel was composed of distinguished guests, including football coach Louis van Gaal, General Secretary of the KNVB, Gijs de Jong, doctor of the Dutch national team, Edwin Goedhart and two heads of performance, Dave Reddin from The FA and Darcy Norman from AS Roma. There was a general agreement among the panel that medicine cannot be seen as a separate discipline, but is rather an integral part of the multi-disciplinary team that aims to optimise team performance.

One of the key points highlighted during the discussion was the importance and value of communication between doctors and coaches in order to properly manage injuries as well as to prevent them from occurring. “We need to help the communication between the coach and medical team, the doctor is an important element and receiving information on daily basis prior and following training sessions and matches is very crucial,” said van Gaal. “Meetings with the heads of performance and medical team are of paramount importance, without of course ignoring that the general philosophy and vision come from the coach.”

Van Gaal also underlined the importance of the information that comes from the UEFA Injury Study. “Coaches need to know about this. And of course it should be a part of education for younger coaches too.”

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