The competitive schedule is an obstacle that all sports teams must deal with each year. Extensive travel, consecutive matches against high level opponents and even inclement weather can all contribute to tough games and a few extra checks in the L column rather than the W. Another major factor that coaches have little control over is the frequency with which competitions are played. In some sports like football, games are traditionally held once per week. Baseball has a particularly grueling schedule that can involve multiple competitions in a one week period. Basketball and hockey can also have busy schedules depending on the level. In women’s NCAA Division I soccer, competitions are consistently held on Friday evenings and Sunday afternoons. This leaves only a 42 hour window for recovery between matches. It is unclear how this short window between games impacts performance from Friday to Sunday. What insight can be gained from quantifying and comparing performances each weekend? How will this impact recovery modalities, game strategy, substitutions and so forth? Finally, if performances are consistently different between Friday’s and Sunday’s, what physiological factors explain the performance difference? Further investigation into this issue is required.
Performance differences between weekend games in collegiate female soccer players was the topic of investigation in McCormack and colleagues (2014) new study published ahead of print in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance. The researchers monitored the game-play of a team of 10 female Division I soccer players across 8 weekends during a competitive season. Each player had to have played a minimum of 45 minutes in each match to be included in the analysis. For each match, each of the following variables were calculated: average minutes played, total distance covered, total distance of high-intensity runs, the number of high intensity running efforts, and the number of sprints. Data from all Friday and Sunday matches were averaged and compared.
There were no significant difference in minutes played, distance rate, or number of sprints between Friday and Sunday matches. However, a significant decrease in rate of high intensity runs was observed. The number of efforts of high intensity running approached a significant difference with a small effect size. The novel finding of the current study was that female soccer player’s cover less distance of high intensity running on Saturday’s compared to Fridays. This indicates that the athletes are likely not fully recovered from Friday matches. Factors such as hydration status, glycogen levels and muscle damage may be potential contributing factors. Future work should aim to determine potential causes of the performance decrease so that better recovery and nutritional strategies can be employed.
McCormack, WP., et al. Reduced high intensity running rate in Collegiate women’s soccer when games are separated by 42 hours. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, Ahead of print.