THE BLOG

Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Football?

18/02/2015 14:56 GMT | Updated 19/04/2015 10:59 BST

Now, before the hard-core football fanatics out there start sending me threatening tweets telling me just how much they despise my 'beautiful game' hating ways, you need to understand that I am not referring to there being too much football on our TV's or radios, on our grounds or in our pubs each weekend.

Me?

Never!

If you cut me I bleed grass, leather, pies, beer and woodwork; I can't get enough.

I am referring to, for young developing players at least, there perhaps being too much football too soon.

Michael Owen (admittedly with a fervent Sir Alex Ferguson at his back) infamously blamed his somewhat injury ravaged career on his early development at Liverpool. The former England frontman, who insists that he is not naturally injury prone (the PhysioRoom Injury Table may disagree with) claimed that he could have played at the highest level for much longer than he did had he not been "overplayed" by the reds during the early stages of his Anfield career.

Owen cited that pushing his body to the limit too often - when he represented the LFC youth team - was the root cause of his subsequent lack of pace and the increasing frequency with which he became injured.

He surmised that playing 80-some-odd games a season, before jetting off to join the England set up without so much as a toilet break, had made a devastating impact upon his ability to recover from minor knocks later in his career.

Now, whether you're a fan of Mr Owen or not, he may have a point.

In the period before his 24th birthday, Owen had played an astonishing 316 games for both club and country. Compare that to his Man United counterparts and you see how, unlike Liverpool, Ferguson and United appeared to be protecting their players.

Beckham (184), Scholes (123) and Giggs (112) all played a significantly smaller number of games before they turned 24; which may explain the much longer lengths of their respective careers.

That said, Michael Owen is just one example that arguably proves the theory that you can have too much football too young. But there is basic medical common sense to consider here too.

For one thing, you have to take into account the amount of physical strain that 80-plus games a year puts onto a growing child's body. Constant training sessions and 2-to-3 matches a week at any level cannot possibly allow enough time for the body to recover, meaning minor injuries to ligaments and joints soon become serious long-term problems.

The ligaments and bones of young footballers (and kids in general) often grow at differing speeds and it is this imbalance that makes it so much easier for little twinges and tweaks to take a turn for the worse and develop into life-long medical problems.

An example of this can be found in stress related injuries like shin splints (medial tibial stress syndrome) and Sever's disease (injury to the growth plate in the heel), both of which occur frequently in developing teen footballers.

Strangely, these injuries tend not to occur in teenagers that play a variety of sports or in kids that just hang around the park playing football with their friends. It would appear that there is something a little more unusual going on here.

Many theories have been proffered as to why these injuries occur, ranging from incorrect footwear and bad pitches to poor diet and bad technique, but most experts in the field point to one solitary factor: year round, organised training in a single sport, or TOO MUCH FOOTBALL TOO SOON.

So my advice, if you don't want your blossoming football career (or that of your child's) to falter and end before it's begun, is to ensure that you listen to your body and understand that taking the proper time to heal will actually reduce the amount of time you take off.

And if you coach kids football, remember, giving them a break when they are 14 is not going to make a blind bit of difference if, like a certain Michael Owen, they are destined to become a professional footballer.

Look after each other and happy training.