THE INFLUENCE OF AGE ON FOOTBALLERS’ PERFORMANCE
Elite athletes are getting older. We know that players can give their best performance levels for longer now than they could a few decades ago.
For some time, we have known that placement and physical demands of players are not homogenous; but rather, they vary by their position on the field. This is the basis for individualized training, adapted to the demands which each player will face in competition.
Although there are several studies on this topic, many of them have analyzed these demands by looking at just a few variables or using very broad timeframes. There is a risk, therefore, that we do not have all the necessary information and that, by using average values, players may not be properly trained and prepared for the most challenging passages of each game.
A new study completed by physical trainers from F.C. Barcelona has analyzed several of these details more closely. The results and conclusions have been published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, and they are already being used in training for different categories.
The study followed twenty-three football players from Barça B. Using GPS-based technology and custom software analysis, the researchers looked at variables that can basically be classified into three groups: locomotive (distance covered, distance covered at high speed, sprints), mechanical (number of high-intensity accelerations and decelerations), and metabolic (high metabolic load distance and average metabolic power). In addition, they employed a particularly flexible observation method, analyzing timeframes of one, three, five, and ten minutes in order to allow for comparison between different training tasks.
The players were divided into five categories by position: full-backs, central defenders, midfielders, wide midfielders, and forwards. They observed that midfielders and wide midfielders were the players who covered the greatest distances in a game, but in exchange they faced fewer sprint situations. In contrast, fullbacks and forwards ran more meters at high speed.
“One of the new aspects of the study is that it allowed us to confirm that these differences appear in broad time periods, but also in timeframes of just one minute,” notes Andrés Martín, strength and conditioning coach for F.C. Barcelona and first author of the study.
Analyzing a wide range of variables has also allowed for other observations, including that in times of maximal demand for one variable, there are also other activities occurring that have to be addressed and prepared for. For example, when midfielders have the most need to travel at high speed, they also tend to perform frequent and intense accelerations and decelerations. Likewise, when analyzing metabolic load, although metabolic load is very similar between forwards and centers, there are more high-speed situations for the former and more accelerations and decelerations for the latter. Soccer demands have many dimensions that must be coordinated in training. Designing routines based too much on one of these may limit performance during competition.
In general, these measures would be specially recommended for those football players who do not compete regularly. “Starting players tend to already have a large part of the load needed, although a more personalized load may be added, especially when the calendar allows for it,” Martín specifies. He adds that the research does not stop here: “We want to know how the team behaves as a whole, not just individually, as well as to study whether technical-tactical aspects determine these demands. We also want to assess injury risk: we believe that training adjusted to demand helps prevent injuries.”
The Barça Innovation Hub team
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