Interview: Football people do not know the value of a physiotherapist, says Italian physiotherapist Ippazio Lecci
The game of football, to many, revolves around those stars who kick the ball around to score goals, make last ditch tackles and keep the ball. It’s always the things that happen on the pitch, that capture the imagination of many across the world.
Behind what footballers do, lies the reason as to how they do so. These are the people who remain in the background and do their job discreetly, but what they do, silently, has a massive impact on what transpires on the pitch.
Apart from coaches and scouts, there are other backroom staff who make sure that players are good enough to play at the top level. Physiotherapists, in particular, are those in the game who look after the well-being of players, day in and day out.
While their contributions to the game are never viewed with as much recognition or reverence as those of the players, their absence would make playing a lot tougher for the ones that we hail as ‘superstars’.
I caught up with a prominent Italian physiotherapist, considered to be one of the best in Italy right now - Ippazio Lecci. The 58-year-old Italian hasn’t just worked in football, but also has experience of working in tennis and dance.
Here are the excerpts from the interview:
What is the best and the worst aspect about being a physiotherapist in football?
The best aspect is to work with young promising players and help them in improving their athletic skills, working on their posture, their way of running, and their proprioception system. The negative aspect is represented by the fact that football teams consider the physiotherapist an important person just after the player's injuries.
Physiotherapists can do much, much more than often imagined, for football players and for clubs.
It’s ridiculous to see that some clubs that I know don’t have a specialist in physiotherapist, but they spend big money on players. How will those players perform? What if they get an injury? Clubs have to invest in a department that will ensure that their players will always perform at their 110% with a 50 or 60% lesser chance of getting injured.
How important is fitness in football, when compared to the other games that you've worked in?
Fitness is important in all sports as in football. The only difference is in the way you approach the athletic preparation, each characterised by different rhythms which changes based on the different movements that the athlete’s body is asked to do during the training/match.
How much does a physio influence the career of a player and do you think their role is underrated?
Unfortunately, in football teams, prevention is underestimated in all aspects. During professional matches, the physiotherapist’s role becomes even more important in three fundamental aspects. Firstly, the right posture avoids injuries. Secondly, muscle balance that helps to harmonise the movements, making them faster and decreasing the reaction time.
‘Aerial proprioception’ is a method I have developed to amplify the connection between the player and the ball, as the player can feel in advance the opponent's body movement and therefore predict the ball trajectory/opponent decisions.
Working on these three elements can positively affect a football player’s career, either in terms of duration or quality, increasing the economic value of each player and the value of the team. Unfortunately, not many professional clubs have the foresight of adding a physiotherapist with this approach and ideas, with the exception of very few famous teams.
How did you end up stumbling upon physiotherapy as a passion, that too in a game such as football?
My passion for this profession was born with the desire to help and to provide relief to other people who are in pain. Having my patients, who are coaches of football lower leagues, I found myself helping them with tips and advice in relation to physiotherapy related to the football players. Here, I started to become more interested in the sport, focusing on the Aerial Proprioception.
Is there any reason why you have switched between different sports?
The reason why I worked in different sports is because I wanted to either develop my experience and also because I received many proposals from managers of different sports. Another reason is that football people do not know the value of a physiotherapist and how they can help teams and players.
After so many experiences, I would collaborate exclusively with football teams that have a clear project, ambition and will to grow. Not just for rehabilitation post-trauma but with a new approach to the role of physiotherapy, working in collaboration with the medical staff to bring the athletes to their best physical situation.