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Interpreting Physical Performance in Professional Soccer Match-Play: Should We be More Pragmatic in Our Approach?

Abstract

Academic and practitioner interest in the physical performance of male professional soccer players in the competition setting determined via time–motion analyses has grown substantially over the last four decades leading to a substantial body of published research and aiding development of a more systematic evidence-based framework for physical conditioning. Findings have forcibly shaped contemporary opinions in the sport with researchers and practitioners frequently emphasising the important role that physical performance plays in match outcomes. Time–motion analyses have also influenced practice as player conditioning programmes can be tailored according to the different physical demands identified across individual playing positions. Yet despite a more systematic approach to physical conditioning, data indicate that even at the very highest standards of competition, the contemporary player is still susceptible to transient and end-game fatigue. Over the course of this article, the author suggests that a more pragmatic approach to interpreting the current body of time–motion analysis data and its application in the practical setting is nevertheless required. Examples of this are addressed using findings in the literature to examine (a) the association between competitive physical performance and ‘success’ in professional soccer, (b) current approaches to interpreting differences in time–motion analysis data across playing positions, and (c) whether data can realistically be used to demonstrate the occurrence of fatigue in match-play. Gaps in the current literature and directions for future research are also identified.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Due to inconsistencies in terminology and definitions of high-intensity-type running activity in the studies cited throughout this article, the term “high-speed” activity was preferred here. Unless stated, discrete ‘high-intensity’ and ‘sprinting’ activities are encompassed under the “high-speed” activity definition. The speed threshold in kilometres per hour used for discrete high-speed activities in each study is provided where possible.

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The author has no potential conflict of interest and no funding was obtained for the preparation of this article.

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Correspondence to Christopher Carling.

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Carling, C. Interpreting Physical Performance in Professional Soccer Match-Play: Should We be More Pragmatic in Our Approach?. Sports Med 43, 655–663 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-013-0055-8

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Keywords

  • Physical Conditioning
  • Premier League
  • Physical Output
  • Conditioning Programme
  • Game Interval