Football fatigue, how to react?

13/11/2013 15:45

Last week I went to Madrid to visit the training facilities of Real Madrid. I was joining the Coach Week arranged by Real Madrid youth academy to give coaches a view on their vision, methodology and training sessions. I really enjoyed myself there, learned a lot and in the end it was a mind setting trip. Due to the trip I wasn’t able to finish another blog, so that’s why it was a bit quiet last week.

Having some time off now I was able to finish a new blog, this time about football fatigue.
While I was flying home, I read an article in a science paper called ‘Sportgericht’ (Dutch for Sports directed), about football fatigue. Here they named that football is an aerobic sport, with big fluctuations in high-, and low intensity movements.

Studies learned us that the load during the decennia has been enlarged. Wallace & Norton₁ analysed the FIFA world cups from 1966 until 2010. This analysis showed us a significant growth at among other things like ball speed, passing frequency and player density. Also they figured out that the work to rest rate has been enlarged from 1:4 in 1966 to 1:1,5 in 2010(!). There have to be noticed that the effective play time decreased during this period.

Of course this intensities cannot go on without fatigue coming around the corner. This article divided fatigue into three forms of fatigue within football. I’m going to analyse this three forms and my opinion about how coaches should react to these forms.


Temporary fatigue

This form of fatigue occurs when there are some high intensity actions involved in a short amount of time. This can contain running, running on tempo and sprinting. The most of this high-intensity running has a need of the anaerobic capacity. This capacity is far from endless, but with well-trained athletes it will recover faster. So after a few high-intensity sprints, the possibility to recover fully will decrease during the game. But a player will be able to execute the high-intensity work after a short amount of time. This needs some time though.

The reaction from the coach during the game is difficult. When a player can’t sprint anymore, he needs time to recover his anaerobic capacity fully to sprint again. So when he isn’t able to perform his task in the right way, he must be covered by another player at that moment.
Before a game starts a coach can say though that this high-intensity work must be saved for the task (for example defending) only in the first place. When there is room for it, the player can do some other task on high-intensity (for example joining in an attacking form). The player must be capable to divide his capacity on high-intensity work over the game. This can be learned by trial and error, but then a player needs a back-up to cover him during the game. So he can notice the fault he made and learn for the next time.
Also by anaerobic training, the recovery time of the anaerobic capacity can be reduced. Due to this training a player is able to perform more high-intensity runs in the same amount of time, what can be beneficial when much sprints in a short amount of time is needed.


Initial Phase second half

The second form occurs at the initial phase of the second half. During the rest period of 15 minutes, a player cools down almost two degrees Celsius. This is disadvantageous for the physiological processes in the body, to perform at the highest possible level of the athlete. Think of: heart rate, blood transport to the muscles and other principles which are needed to perform at the optimal level. Also the arousal level of a player can be reduced during a 15 minute break, sitting in the dressing room with a cup of tea. This also brings physiological disadvantages even as sharpness during the initial phase of the second half.
Even as Mohr et.al₂ I would recommend a short ‘re-warming-up’ just before the second half starts. Mohr et.al₂ pleads for seven minutes before the second half starts. Coaches need to keep this in mind during their speech in the second half. Try to keep the players sharp (arousal level) and try to keep their temperature to the same level it was finishing the first half. This can bring some benefits during the initial phase of the second half, with as biggest one outperforming the opponent during this phase.


Final phase of the game

The last form is of course the most logical one, the final phase of the game. This form occurs as the end of the game approaches. The depletion of glycogen is the main reason for this form of fatigue. Coaches cannot change this stock of glycogen during the game. Only way is to have proper nutrition during half time. So there has to be found something else. Try to play with the psychological factors with this one. Try to encourage the players to give their best at the last part of the game.

As I mentioned before, dividing the forces during the ninety minutes is a skill which must be learned by the players. A term which is used to describe this definition is ‘pacing’. Pacing strategies are used in sports like ice-skating and athletics, but aren’t really famous in football. Coaches give their players advices which lead to pacing strategies. Like walking smart, or being smart with the pressure on the opponent when being of possession.


My advice to coaches would be: invest some time in pacing strategies, next to the conditioning of players. Also it would be a great research subject for researchers, about pacing strategies within football. I think we are going to need this more and more in the future, with the game developing and getting faster every time. So not only the ‘where’ and ‘what’ in the game will be important, also the ‘how’ and ‘when’ will be a bigger issue in the future, as it is already now.


The red line of this blog comes from:

Sportgericht, vakblad voor specialisten in beweging (67ste jaargang 2013 nr5, ‘vermoeidheid in het voetbal’ door Pim Koolwijk).

Other sources consulted by Sportgericht, also for my blog:

₁Wallace JL & Norton KI (2013). Evolution of World Cup soccer final games 1966-2010: Game structure, speed and play patterns. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, E-publicatie voorafgaand aan druk. [doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2013.03.016]

₂Mohr M, Krustrup P & Bangsbo J (2005). Fatigue in soccer: A brief review. Journal of Sport Sciences, 23 (6), 593-599.