Amid the Covid-19 coronavirus crisis, most of the local football clubs could be forced to give players some time off as the games remain suspended.
The indefinite postponement of the programmes due to the lockdown means some PSL clubs could be presented with a challenge when it comes to keeping their players fit while in self-isolation.
This week, most clubs confirmed that their players were still reporting for training, but they have been mindful of government’s restrictions on mass gathering and the requirement of self-isolation to curb the spread of the virus.
Safa chief medical officer Dr Thulani Ngwenya said the Covid-19 pandemic was a rude awakening and that professional football clubs needed to invest in sports medicine.
To back up his statement, the Bafana Bafana medico bemoaned the shortage of permanent sports physicians at local professional clubs.
“You cannot say that you have the capacity to fully condition an athlete just by having a physical trainer and a physiotherapist,” Ngwenya told City Press.
“At the moment, we have fewer than five clubs in our national league that have a full-time sports physician. We need to realise that sports medicine is very important. We need to catch up with the world.”
Critically, Ngwenya said, most clubs did not have detailed medical data for the players, a task that would normally be fulfilled by sports physicians.
“It makes it impossible to know the player’s medical condition. And it’s very important information when you are actually dealing with a situation such as the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I have been very vocal about all clubs havinga full-time sports physician and not just a doctor. Yes, they [doctors] are qualified, but they are not sports physicians. There are some other issues such as doping when you prescribe medicine, and we’ve had cases where a doctor would prescribe a banned substance,” Ngwenya said.
Apart from his duties at Safa, Ngwenya co-founded the Sports Medicine Africa Clinic with three other physicians – doctors Jerome Mampane (Kaizer Chiefs, Lions rugby and the Springboks), Crosley Mulungwa (South African junior national teams) and Moshe Magethi (junior Boks women).
Ngwenya singled out Mamelodi Sundowns as one of a handful of teams that have embraced sports medicine.
“Sundowns have two doctors [Carl Tabane and Paul Maphoto], who work closely with the team’s physical trainer [Kabelo Rangoaga]. Sundowns always play in CAF competitions and domestic football, but they never get tired.”
‘Stay at home’ challenge
A fun challenge has gone viral on social media, with football players showing off juggling skills with toilet rolls instead of with a ball.
While the #StayAtHomeChallenge might appear to be just a fun exercise, some conditioning coaches have devised unique methods under the rapidly evolving global health crisis.
This includes individualised training programmes to keep players fit.
Well-travelled strength and conditioning coach
Riedoh Berdien thinks this is the time when “coaches need to understand the importance of individual periodisation in football”.
Berdien, who hails from Cape Town, has worked for different professional clubs in six countries on three continents.He is currently with the Tanzanian powerhouse Young Africans SC. He said the club had already drawn up individual programmes for players in anticipation of the suspension of their league.
“I am not a coronavirus expert, but in my opinion, with regard to fitness training during the pandemic, conditioning coaches have to use good general individual periodisation programmes.
“This element of conditioning can’t be neglected because it helps prepare coaches for events such as these [the unexpected lockdown],” Berdien told City Press from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, this week.
Periodisation is a detailed individual conditioning programme that fits into the team’s plan.
He added: “In our programmes, we have recommended regular hikes, cycling, walks and jogging outside in an isolated environment.
“Basic in-home exercises have also been included – doing daily chores such as washing your car, working in your garden and making food.”
Berdien also lauded governments around the globe, the World Health Organisation, Fifa and sports organisers for postponing events.
The 37-year-old said the conditioning programme was combined with educating athletes on the dos and don’ts during the virus outbreak.
“In-home training activities need to be performed to try to maintain general fitness and to combat this disease. Football is secondary in this situation [because] staying healthy and not spreading the virus is more important,” said Berdien.
Sundowns turned down City Press’ request to interview Rangoaga. But the team’s head coach, Pitso Mosimane, has often credited the fitness specialist from Rustenburg in North West for keeping the Sundowns players in tip-top condition with his unique training methods.
Sundowns players have been off since the cancellation of their game against Orlando Pirates on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Chiefs manager Bobby Motaung said the club had designed programmes in consultation with their medical staff.
Amakhosi, who are four points ahead of Sundowns in the Absa Premiership title race, have Jarred Marsh as the club’s head of sport science.
Motaung could not confirm when Chiefs’ player activity would be completely shut down, but he assured City Press that the club was following the guidelines on precautionary measures to combat Covid-19.