Matt Allen
February 2017.

When's the right age to quit playing five-a-side football?

1 answer

“In 5-a-side football, the body takes a lot of strain. The playing surface is often harder than grass because the game is played on an artificial surface. A lot has been done to improve the quality of these pitches over the last decade, what with the introduction of 3G surfaces – a pitch where artificial grass is supported by sand and a scattering of rubber pellets, thereby softening the ground slightly – however, just running can cause strain on the body.

“This, twinned with the speed of the game, with its constant twists and changes of pace can be dangerous for the joints, tendons and muscles. The ankles and knees can pick up a lot of damage through running on the hard surface, and because football is a high intensity sport, where players come into contact with each other at speed, the risk of a painful collision – sometimes with serious consequences – can be quite high.

“Five-a-side football is very popular amongst the amateur footballer because it’s a cheap way of getting a competitive game in a relatively short space of time. However, within this group, the focus on warming up before games and cooling down afterwards is often minimal. Ten minutes of light jogging before a game, with stretches for the hamstrings, calves, groin and quad (thigh) muscles would reduce the risk of injury. Ten minutes of stretching after a game can aid recovery.

"Players come into contact with each other at speed, the risk of a painful collision – sometimes with serious consequences – can be quite high."

“Five-a-side footballers also do a lot of exercise in a very short period of time, so the risk of injuries rises after a certain age. That age is probably around 40 years. Of course, risk of injury also depends on many things: the intensity of the game, the physical preparation, the time you spend warming up, or the number of replacements you have on the bench. For example, as fatigue increases in a player during a game, so the risk of injury goes up. For the less fit players, problems might occur in the last 10 to 15 minutes depending on the intensity of the match.

“I would never suggest quitting five-a-side at a certain age – everybody is different, and some people are more physically suited to retiring from the sport at a later age. The key factor is personal choice: hanging up your boots should happen when you stop enjoying the game, and the age of the players around you, especially if you’re competing against players half your age.

“More importantly, five-a-side is great fun. Exercising is by far and away the most important part of any weekly diet, and physical inactivity kills more people than smoking or drinking. So if the worst comes to the worst and your days of playing are over, you can always graduate to Walking Football.” 

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