Thursday, May 17, 2012

How Important is Fitness?

Very few coaches or players would argue that fitness is not an important part of the game. Fatigue during a match leads to a whole host of problems that lead to poor play. Slowed sprint speed, loss of technical skills, poor decision making and lethargy are all markers of a player who lacks fitness. But what kind of fitness is important? In broad terms, one can consider the ability to sprint and exercise at a high-intensity for a short period of time indicative of anaerobic fitness. On the other hand, the ability to move continuously over the course of a 90 minute match is considered a marker of aerobic fitness. How do these aspects of fitness influence the player’s ability within a match? Is one more important that the other? Researchers in Serbia and Croatia addressed these questions a newly published study. They found that both aspects of fitness are critically important to the performance of players during both the attacking and defending phases of the game.

The investigators examined a group of male, U-14 players, all members of an elite junior club. All were experienced players having had at least four years of soccer training. The design was to compare measures of anaerobic and aerobic fitness to the player’s technical and tactical abilities.

Anaerobic fitness was evaluated using a battery of exercise tests including a single sprint, repeated sprints, and 300m run tests. Aerobic fitness was evaluated by the Hoff test and a multi-stage shuttle run.

Player soccer skills (technical and tactical) were evaluated by a panel of soccer experts including national and international senior coaches and players. During a competitive 11v11 match, this panel judged how players performed during transitioning and positioning during both the attack and defending. Some of the skills included passing, ball control, shots, pressuring, assisting, and preventing shots as well as positioning, “off the ball” movements and the ability to play multiple roles.

The results showed that in the defending phase of the game, 37% of the variability in player performance was due to anaerobic fitness and an equal contribution of aerobic fitness.  That leaves  about 25% due to other factors.  As for the attacking phase, variability on performance was due to 32% anaerobic and 26% aerobic. In short, both anaerobic and aerobic fitness are equally important contributors to the player’s ability to attack and defend.

Over the course of a match, players routinely transition from low intensity jogging or running to high intensity sprints. Given that youth players are expected to cover distances up to five miles per game, and they are required to perform more than 1000 sprints, stops, starts, changes in direction and jumps, it is not surprising that both anaerobic and aerobic fitness are nearly equally important contributors to success.

The physiological demands of soccer are quite complex. In terms of energy cost, most consider it a hybrid sport, exacting a unique blend of energy demands. For this reason, the investigators stress the idea that successful players must be multi-dimensional in terms of fitness. Players need the ability to exercise continuously for long periods of time (aerobic). They also need the ability to sprint and perform multiple, high-intensity bouts with minimal recovery time (anaerobic). One characteristic without the other may prevent them from achieving peak performance. Accordingly, the researchers further emphasize that given this strong link between fitness, technical skill and tactical abilities, coaches should implement all-round fitness training. Such training should include drills and activates that tax both the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems.

Back to the original question, “how important is fitness?” According to this study, the answer is “very important”. Both aerobic and anaerobic fitness are key contributors to overall soccer performance. Thus, training both aspects of fitness is critically important in developing a successful player.

Reference:

Sporis G, Milanovic Z, Trajkovic N, Erceg M, Novak D (2012) Relationship between functional capacities and performance parameters in soccer, Journal of Sports Medicine and Doping Studies, S2, doi:10.4172/2161-0673.S2-001