A 10-day gap between fixtures during the course of a regular season sometimes comes as a welcome break for players and coaching staff alike. In the bio bubble, though, these breaks from the adrenalin and focus that matchday induces adds to the challenges that teams need to deal with. Here is the lowdown on how Team Sudeva handled it the last 10 days.

Sudeva Delhi FC Media

In a normal season of football, a 10-day break between games would be considered an aberration. But this past year, this season and every adjustment since have been part of what is called the ‘new normal’. With teams in a bio bubble playing a condensed season — which often means three matches within 10 days — there has been pressure on players, coaches and medical staff alike to reduce workload and fatigue. Every team has been afforded a 10-day break in the schedule. Ten days of no gametime, just training, rest and recovery.

“It is a Catch-22 for everyone if you look,” Chencho Dorji, head coach of Sudeva Delhi FC says, highlighting how most teams who have emerged from the 10-day break have faced a dip in performance — and in some cases seen adverse results. “Usually, you play a game every week, so you take out game days and the five days in the middle are spent in recovery, training, rest and travel. That ‘break’ period goes by quickly. But here, filling that time is tough.”

When Sudeva entered the 10 day break it was on a high, having beaten former champions Chennai City FC 4-0 in a game that is perhaps the highlight of their season so far. It was the ideal kind of result to step into a break with. And now, it almost seems like part two of the season will begin. While players have welcomed the break, Dorji, assistant coach Pushpender Kundu and other members of the staff have utilised the time to condition themselves and the team for the challenges ahead. It was also a time to introduce some fun into an otherwise boring routine — via a training session where the non playing members of the staff were given game time on the pitch.

“Training,” Dorji says, “is not just about improving performance. It is an outlet for players. It is a space to give them positive energy. Especially this year in this schedule. Maintaining fitness was important, but maintaining mental fitness was perhaps more so.” 

“To be honest, it is a tough situation,” Dorji says. “Normally players get to take time off, go out, relieve their minds, relax a bit on days off. Team excursions also help build some spirit and generally take the mind off the monotony of football. But it is tough in the bubble. There is honestly not much to do, and so, it is each to their own. I generally prefer to leave them to it and don’t bother them outside of training cycles.”

For Kean Lewis, the break was unusual but not novel. “When I was at Bengaluru FC in 2018-19, we got 15 days off and it was fortunately around Christmas, so… ideal.” 

At the time most of the players went home to their families. This break afforded no such opportunity, it was routine as usual, minus the action of matchday. 

“Everything we did was the same as usual. We were training, we were following the same schedules, it was basically like a preseason within the season. Some guys were playing on PlayStations, there was some UNO around, but honestly it was the same as game week, minus the game itself.”

For Lewis, the break was an opportunity to recalibrate and do things outside his own personal football bubble. One of those rare players who is studying while playing professionally, Lewis used the break to complete pending assignments for a course he is doing in sports psychology, and caught up with some online classes on another in sports law. 

“Normally, it’s tough to do all this during the season. You are totally focussed on matchday and preparing for the game or analysing the previous one. So it was good for me personally.”

As regards the team’s next assignment against Aizawl FC, no one has any doubts that the intensity will not drop. Dorji has warned the players as well as us at the website that in his analysis, team’s performances have dipped and so made sure in training sessions the  matchday intensity was recreated. Lewis and his roommate and the team’s captain, Gursimrat Singh Gill, see no cause for concern. 

“Nothing will change. In a normal season we don’t play every four days. We play once a week,” GIll says. “So, this is actually more normal than before. Plus, we entered the break with bucket loads of positive energy thanks to the win. All of us players who may have suffered small injuries or fatigue etc have had the chance to recuperate. Now, we have recharged and are ready to go again.”

Picture: Vaibhav Raghunandan