Soccer fans across the world rejoiced over the weekend as Germany’s Bundesliga resumed play after a more-than two month hiatus — a big step as live sports begin to slowly return to televisions across the world.
The sport had some noticeable changes, including empty stadiums, socially-distanced celebrations and an increase to five substitutions per squad — but while pundits and supporters kept their eyes on how those might affect the sport, WVU women’s soccer coach Nikki Izzo-Brown had her attention elsewhere.
“I was worried,” she said. “I’m a bit worried about the injuries, and I’m a bit worried about the movements.”
The athletes in Germany, like Izzo-Brown’s own squad, have been off the pitch since March. In that time, they’ve been away from gyms, trainers, coaches and teammates, and ultimately, they mostly fell out of the mid-season shape they had before the break.
Unfortunately, Izzo-Brown’s fears of injury mostly came true — since clubs began individual trainings in April, 22 players across the league picked up an injury, including over a dozen injuries over the weekend’s matches. Most of those injuries were muscular, likely due to their lack of match fitness.
“That cutting, that acceleration, deceleration, soft tissue injuries were something I was looking at, and unfortunately that’s exactly what happened,” she said.
Izzo-Brown now fears the same may happen to her student-athletes after such a long separation from the squad.
“That’s been a huge concern of mine because of the spring season and how we’re in the weight room, we’re developing the athlete physically, injury prevention,” she said. “So we missed all of that, right? Then you move into the summer months and they can’t play right now. Some kids don’t have any access to weights or anything like that.”
It will be even more difficult for players to get match fit if access to facilities is restricted over the summer. While workouts during that time is voluntary, Izzo-Brown notes that the Mountaineers still take them very seriously.
This has forced her to take a different focus than she normally does at this point in the calendar. While she is normally zeroes in on what happens on the pitch — “tactics, tactics, tactics,” as she says — she has had to keep her players at the ready.
“We’re doing everything we can to motivate the athlete and to make sure they understand that when it’s time to go, it’s go time,” she said. “And that self-motivation piece is huge.”
As it stands, though, there is no real timetable for when they can officially begin their preparations for the season, or even how they can move forward. The current suspension of team activities from the Big 12 lasts until May 31, and commissioner Bob Bowlsby recently stated the conference needs to be “up and running” by mid-July.
The typical preseason for Izzo-Brown’s squad lasts about two weeks, and she hopes it doesn’t get shortened any less than that — but she will take anything she gets.
“I’m not greedy, but I also don’t want to see a lot of injuries and I think that Bundesliga showed that we just have to be very mindful of that,” she said.