The objective of the pre-season is to seek the best individual and collective physical fitness of the team before beginning the competition. However, while we have many indicators and information to detect the former, we know much less about the latter. Many years ago, Paco Seirul·lo explained that there are four types of physical fitness in team sports: individual physical fitness, collective physical fitness, physical fitness depending on the opponent, and physical fitness depending on which phase of the season players and teams find themselves.
A recent study has made great advances to uncover more about collective physical fitness.1The study analysed how the tactical, physical, and physiological performance of a first division team changes during pre-season. To that end, they studied an 8 vs. 8 + goalkeeper situation, which was repeated from the first week of preparation until the last one. The behaviour of the players was recorded using GPS devices, and non-linear statistical procedures such as approximate entropy and relative phase. The total distance covered per minute was less in the final weeks of pre-season when compared to the first sessions of preparation: 165.5 metres vs. 142.2. These differences were even more obvious in the distance covered at low (0.0 – 3.5 km. h-1) and moderate (3.6 – 14.3 km. h-1) intensity: 59.3 metres vs. 47.1 and 76.9 vs. 66.6, respectively. The metres covered at high intensity (14.4 – 19.7 km. h-1) and at a sprint (< 19.8 km. h-1) remained stable when comparing the first and the last sessions of pre-season: 14.4 vs. 13.9 and 11.0 vs. 11.0, respectively. However, the synchronisation of the players (that is, the coordination of their movements during the match) in longitudinal and lateral movements improved by 8% and 7%, respectively, from the beginning to the end of pre-season. These results allow us to better understand the collective physical fitness. It means that teams are able to coordinate their response and work together in the various situations that occur during a match. Success in football has a lot to do with whether the members of a team identify and interpret the most important aspects of the match similarly and know what to do and how to do it quickly. This is what it means to be well-synchronised. The researchers also found that more experienced players travelled less distance than their younger teammates. Athletes do not get into shape at the same rate and experienced senior players appear to require fewer training sessions to reach the best version of themselves for competition.
What coaches and physical trainers can apply from these learnings are:
- They must differentiate between the individual and collective physical fitness of the team. It is possible to be at a very high level individually and to have little team collaboration, and vice versa.
- They must identify and quantify performance indicators for each type of physical fitness. Perhaps general tests or those that differ from the specific motor skills of the sport should not be used to assess how the athletes are doing.
- The most specific physical fitness in team sports is collective fitness. The level achieved in a match should help identify this.
- The age of the players and where they are in their athletic career has a lot to do with the time they need to get into shape.
The Barça Innovation Hub team
1 Folgado H, Gonçalves B, Sampaio J. Positional synchronization affects physical and physiological responses to preseason in professional football (soccer). (2018).Research in Sports Medicine. 26(1): 51-63.