As fatigue accumulates in an athlete, fitness qualities become masked and full potential is not realized until fatigue subsides. Strength, power, muscular endurance, conditioning, etc., can decline when sufficient recovery is unattained. During a competitive season, managing fatigue is crucial to keeping athletes healthy and performing optimally. Monitoring strategies along with recovery and restoration modalities can assist in preventing any performance decrements during the season. Travel stress, illness, poor sleep quality and inadequate nutrition can all contribute to fatigue accumulation. Perhaps the biggest contributor to fatigue during a season however, might simply be the competition schedule.
A recent study from the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance demonstrates how more frequent competitions can affect performance metrics in athletes. Rollo and his team of researchers (2013) monitored two teams (n=15 each) of sub-elite male soccer players throughout 6 weeks of a competitive season. Team 1 played in one competition per week while Team 2 played in two competitions per week. Both teams had two practice sessions per week in addition to their competition schedules. Performance measures included counter-movement jump, 10 and 20m sprints, and Yo-YoIR1 which were assessed at the beginning of the competitive season, again at week 3 and finally at week 6. At week 3 there were no significant differences in performance measures compared to baseline. However, at week 6, Team 2 displayed significant decrements in each of the assessed performance tests. The competition schedule with more frequent matches eventually resulted in increased (slower) sprint times, reduced lower body power and deteriorated conditioning levels.
This study serves as a good reminder to coaches that scheduling more games for the sake of increasing competition experience comes at the potential risk of excess fatigue and thus performance decrements. When having athletes engage in more than one competition per week, trainers and coaches must be more aware of the training status of their athletes. Keeping tabs on performance is a simple and effective means of monitoring athletes as well as guiding training and practice content. Better management of training and practice volume may be required to ensure athletes can maintain their hard earned fitness qualities.
Rollo I, Impellizzeri FM, Zago M, Iaia FM. Effects of one versus two game a week on physical and subjective scores of sub-elite soccer players. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, Ahead of Print.