Team doctor

Football teams from all levels typically have a relationship with medical clinics or providers. In high-level teams, there is typically a medical team employed to assist the team’s players. A team doctor (TD) is typically the head of this medical team however there may be different structures. This often involves a resident physiotherapist working with a consulting doctor. In more advanced forms, a medical team consists of a resident TD with physiotherapists, trainers, masseurs, a nutritionist, psychologist and a podiatrist. In the absence of a large medical team, the TD would have to perform numerous tasks. For example, they may advise players on nutrition (including meal selection), supplement use, anti-doping protocols and assist in some cases with manual therapy and ankle strapping. The ability to perform multiple duties becomes especially important when on tour with a team.

Medical staff

The All Whites medical staff at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City.

Regardless of the composition of the medical team, the TD is ultimately responsible for the short- and long-term health of the players and staff. Injuries and illnesses that occur beyond the expertise of the doctor should be referred to a suitable specialist and a referral network should be established both at home and at other locations when the team is travelling.

The TD advises the coach about the health status of the players and makes the final decision with respect to the players’ eligibility for competitive football. The TD must respect players’ confidentiality, especially when addressing the media. A media protocol should be agreed with team management and players.

The roles of a TD mainly refer to eight broad activity fields:

  • Injury management
  • Illness management
  • Prevention of injury and illness
  • Emergency care
  • Acclimatisation issues: jet lag, heat and humidity, altitude
  • Anti-doping issues including prevention of doping infringements
  • Optimising performance (including nutrition, hydration and screening for overtraining)
  • Counselling players and staff
While this lesson talks about the responsibilities of the team doctor, these are also relevant for any clinician working with a football team. In many cases, a physiotherapist, paramedic or other healthcare professional may be the sole medical provider available. All clinicians working in a football environment have a duty of care to their players.

Dr Jon Patricios

Sport and Exercise Physician