Team sports are largely skill-based. All else being equal among teams, the more highly skilled team will typically prevail. This is why coaches are so adamant about technical development during training. Many would even argue that strength and conditioning training may be of little value to highly skilled athletes since they demonstrate success without participating in rigorous training. However, what these coaches may be overlooking is how improvements in strength and fitness levels may enhance skill expression, or at the very least, enable the athlete to express their skill for a longer period of time before fatigue sets in. Muscle strength and sport-skill are not necessarily independent of each other. This has been made evident in ample research showing relationships between strength and physical qualities such as running and jumping. However, further research is needed to evaluate how strength qualities relate with sport-specific tasks that occur during match-play and not measured during performance testing.
A new study published ahead of print in the Science and Medicine in Football journal evaluated relationships between match-play tackle outcomes (i.e., successful or unsuccessful, knocking the player down, etc.), tackling ability and physical qualities in a men’s rugby team. A total of 15 rugby matches were assessed with tackle characteristics and outcomes from over 2300 tackles from 16 players recorded and coded for analysis. In addition, physical qualities (i.e., strength and power) as well as a standardized assessment of tackling ability were performed. Relationships were then quantified among the variables to determine what technical and physical aspects were related with successful tackle outcomes during competitive match-play.
The results showed that three technical characteristics were associated with successful tackle outcomes during match-player. These characteristics were medium body position (flexed knees and hips), utilizing a shoulder or “smother” tackle and producing leg drive upon contact. Tackles made from a front-on position with a contact zone at the chest region reduced the odds of a missed tackle. Interestingly, lower body maximal strength was significantly associated with players’ ability to exhibit a medium body position as well as knocking the ball carrier on their back. This study nicely demonstrates how physical qualities such as strength levels can contribute to technical performance during match play either directly or indirectly.
Speranza, M. J., Gabbett, T. J., Greene, D. A., Johnston, R. D., & Townshend, A. D. (2017). Tackle characteristics and outcomes in match-play rugby league: the relationship with tackle ability and physical qualities. Science and Medicine in Football, 1-7.