The effect of a congested schedule and match fatigue on performance

With the new season on its way, I feel it is warrant to have a closer on how games affect consecutive performance on a) training, but also on b) the next match or training as the players will be fatigued from a match.

Generally, the training week is scheduled around games with the purpose to be fully recovered from games and training for the following match. Most of the teams have a “regular” football calendar, which gives two games within 8 days – for example Sunday and (the following) Sunday, which I will refer to as a regular schedule (RS). However, many teams also play three games within 8 days (and therefore have a congested schedule (CS)), due to National Cup, Champions League and Europa League games. In addition some players will need to perform for their national side – or just play college soccer, it might be same – (I hope the reader might forgive me for the slight sarcasm, however, there are many congested schedules in college soccer). As a consequence the greater demand will elevates the stress opposed on players (14).

So for the following paragraphs we will refer my statements with regards to RS and CS.

 

Firstly, I think it is very important to give some thoughts if CSs are more prone to cause injuries compared to RSs and if physical and technical performances differ between the two schedules.

 

Injury rates, physical and technical performances in CS vs. RS

Injury rates
Overall injury rates (training and game) did not differ between CS and RS (4, 8, 9). However, a CS increased the number of injuries significantly in games (8), but was significant lower in training compared to RS (8).


Technical performances
It seems that technical and/or skill performances are not significantly different obtained during CS compared to a RS (8) in French professional players.

Data derived from 6 matches, which were played in 18 days (8).

Measurements taken included duels won (%), mean number of ball contact per possession, #balls lost, #successful passes (8).

 

Other literature however stated that all technical skills faded due to soccer match-related fatigue (1, 13, 15, 21, 23, 28, 31, 32, 35) after a match. However, it was comment that the findings were partly due to different levels of the players (25).


Physical performances
The CS does not seem to influence physical performances (8, 19, 29) of professional French and (8) Spanish (19, 29) players.

Investigated variables were: total distance covered (8), distance at various speeds (19) and #of sprints, #high speed activities (29).

In addition, there seemed to be link between CS and injury rate and performance, here underperformance (10). The players who underperformed had played more matches during the last 10 weeks before the WC 2002 and 60% of the 38 players who played more then one match/week before the WC received an injury or underperformed in the WC 2002 (10).

In contrast and interestingly, the overall distance covered increased from the first microcyle to the last in a CS (8).

As a result, it seems that recovery duration of 72-96 hours appears sufficient (in professional players) to maintain the physical performance (9). Consequently, the microcycle in a CS need to focus on post-match recoveries. Recovery possibilities can be viewed HERE.

However, there is also lots of scientific information not only on game performances, but also on individual aspects of the games such as sprinting, strength and power and aerobic endurance.

Sprint performance
The recovery of sprint performance differs largely between studies (25). The time varies between 5 (2) and 96 hours (14). The majority of papers still showed significant fatigue of players after a match until (11, 14, 22, 27) or even longer (3, 11) than 72 hours post-match. The studies were conducted on trained or elite footballers and utilized 20-40 meter sprints.

Repeated sprint ability (RSA)
There seems to be only little research with regards to the effect of match on repeated sprint ability (17, 18, 24) in footballers. As expected immediate post-match performance was impaired by up to 4%. Test performed were 3 x 30 meters in professional football players. More about RSA HERE.

Strength and Power
Several studies utilized maximal voluntary strength of knee flexors/extensors as a recovery marker for strength measures performances (2, 3, 6, 7, 12, 22, 26, 30, 34, 36). However, the most studies showed the effect of the match (basically measured strength measured directly after the match) or only utilized a recovery period of up to 48 hours. All studies showed significant strength deficit of players at 48 hours post match. Two studies indicated that knee extensor strength was recovered at least to 91% of pre-match values (2, 27) at this time. However, knee flexor strength seemed to be more impaired by match-fatigue and values of up to -15% were observed at 24 hours post-match (22). Only one study stated that knee flexor strength was recovered at 51 hours post-match (2) and strength was recovered to ~91% of pre-match values at 72 hours (2, 3) despite being significant lower.  However, knee flexor and extensors strength did not return to baseline values after 72 hours (2, 3).

Power values were typically invested through jump performances (2, 3, 11, 14, 22, 30, 36). Measurements directly after the match showed decrease of up to 12% and stayed lower until 24 (11, 14, 22) or even up to 72 hours post match (11, 22). However, the values were also not significant different with pre-match values (18, 30, 36).

Aerobic endurance variables
The assessment of aerobic performance during the recovery process after a soccer match require careful consideration due to the fatigue induced by such tests and it is suggested to use indirect evaluations such as RSA tests (25).

Flexibility
Knee joint flexibility was recovered after 72-hours post-match (14).

Others
Cognitive functions are important in perceptual abilities (reaction time, decision making, visual scanning, spatial awareness and anticipation), which are important to execute soccer-specific skills (25). However, there is no true research in football and the scarce research stated that mental fatigue lead to an increase number of errors and increase in reaction time (20).

Acute match fatigue also affected the immune system and muscle soreness of footballers (3, 14). Depending on the selection the individual inflammatory markers peaked at 24, 48 or 72 hours post-match (2, 3, 14). Muscle soreness returned to pre-match values after 42 (11) or 72 hours (3, 11, 14), however, were also shown to be still significant elevated at 72 hours post-match (2, 11).


Limitations
Obviously, there are limitations in these kinds of measurements. For example game intensity will greatly depend on situational variables opposition and other (please see our Performance analysis section for full details), which will consequently affect recovery duration. Furthermore, higher skilled players (or players from a higher ranked team) might also experience lower fatigue, compared to lower-skilled players (or players from a lower ranked team) at the same match intensity.

 

Conclusion

As it seems, CS (especially in college soccer) cannot be avoided and therefore two main ideas can be drawn.

A a well-planned/organized/periodized pre-season training might prepare the players for CS (better) (33), which might resolve some of the injuries due to insufficient preparation and secondly allows the coach to focus on recovery and (/or opposition/) tactical issues. For example it was seen that the detrimental effects of inappropriate training do not appear to be unloaded during the season (16).

(Post-match) Recovery and players rotation is key (5, 9). The recovery should ensure that performance can be sustained over the CS. The rotation of players might be an option to (more) evenly distribute the match (and training) load across the squat.

 

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