Keys to a Malaysian footballer surviving a hectic schedule

Malaysia trainer Reuben Jude Belraj

A tight fixture list where Malaysian teams play 13 matches in 44 days across two competitions has led just about every coach to criticise the schedule. Malaysian fitness guru Reuben Jude Balraj shares with FourFourTwo his experiences with club and country, outlining six important aspects of recovery.

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Over the past week or so, it has been all-too common to hear Malaysia Super League (MSL) coaches lament the current schedule, which forces them to focus more on recovery than on line-ups and tactics.

That will remain the case until the international break at the end of August.

What a player needs varies and it's for us, conditioning coaches, to determine what suits them best

While coaches have vented, for football writers it’s a seemingly endless routine of match preview, match report, post-match stories and repeat, along with, of course, the occasional off-field drama Malaysian football never ceases to provide.

The reasons for the congestion are plentiful and stretch back to exhibition matches against Tottenham Hotspurs and Liverpool last year, plus some unplayable weather conditions due to the haze.

The Malaysian national team also faces its fair share of player fatigue as the next call-up comes immediately after this gruelling period.

Malaysia national team fitness coach Reuben Jude Balraj says recovery time is critical and how much a player requires depends on their age, physical condition, gender and climate. A player’s weight should also be monitored daily

Reuben, who started in football with Malacca back in 2004, was Kelantan fitness coach during their domestic treble season in 2012 and was working under B. Satiananthan at ATM before joining the national team in July, 2014.

“What a player needs varies and it's for us, conditioning coaches, to determine what suits them best,” Reuben told FourFourTwo.

Malaysia national team training

Reuben overseeing national team training

"For example, the routines we implemented during my time at Kelantan and ATM were different. The fixture list was also tight then, so the training load was low as we placed importance on recovery and injury-prevention exercises

“Moral was high because we were winning, thus the psychological aspects were covered.

“The pool of players at ATM were older so training intensity had to be reduced and we had to individualise more. The players were given off days in between games to recover.”

While Reuben is no longer involved in club football, he stresses recovery is still crucial at international level.

“A lot of that still applies to the national team, but there are additional elements. There is a bigger pool of players to monitor and they are from different clubs ... we monitor how much playing time they've had in order to set the right programmes when the players are in for national duty,” he said.

“A ‘wellness’ assessment is done when the players report in and continues daily. This includes question and answer sessions on injuries, pain, mental and emotional well-being. “We also need to take note of the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) for each session completed to assess how the players respond to training load and adjust it accordingly.

“With the international calendar also tight during competitive periods, recovery is a key aspect of my duties now too.”

Reuben’s Five Tips for Recovery

Rehydration – “A player can lose more than two per cent of their body weight and it is not something good. Water lost must be replenished fast.”

Active Rest – “This is where stretching, pool sessions and light aerobic work come into play. Aerobic work of 60 per cent effort with more concentric than eccentric muscle actions.”

Passive Rest – “Seven-to-nine hours of sleep is ideal. Too much sleep can slow down the central nervous system, while too little is not good either.”

Ice bath & Massages – “Ice baths help the healing process as it constricts blood vessels, flushes waste products and reduces swelling and tissue breakdown. Massages increase blood flow without muscle activity.”

Psychological Strategies – “Relaxation is important and recovery is not just about the physical aspects. A hectic schedule can also be mentally taxing.”

Nutrition – “It’s best to load back on the carbohydrates and protein through proper food intake within 30 minutes after the game.”