football fitness

Football fitness - The role of personal fitness in team success

What is the relationship between physical fitness and team success in football? Not as close as you might imagine. That is the conclusion reached by Scandinavian researchers following a study of 306 male players from 17 teams in the two highest divisions in Iceland – élite and first division – just before the start of the 1999 season.

Their aim was to study the relationship between physical fitness and team performance by comparing various indices of physical fitness between and within divisions with final league standing. The researchers also wanted to study differences in physical fitness between players in different positions.

Each coach selected the 18 best players from his team to participate and players were tested for the following variables:

  • peak oxygen uptake;
  • body composition;
  • leg extensor power;
  • jumping ability;
  • flexibility.

Only 153 players (50% of the total) participated in all of the tests, but the 301 players who took part in at least one of the tests were included in the analyses.

The researchers were also interested in the relationship between player injuries incurred during the season and team success, so team physical therapists were asked to record injuries on a special form during the season.

When comparing team averages between the élite league and the first division, the only difference observed was that the élite teams were taller. However, when individual player values were compared between divisions, significant differences were also observed for peak oxygen uptake (2.4% higher among the élite players) and body composition (10% fat among the élite players compared with 11.2% among first division players).

A significant relationship was observed between the team average for jump height (countermovement jump and standing jump) and team success, defined as final league standing. But non-significant trends were observed when examining the relationship between team success and team averages for leg extensor power and body composition.

Finally, there was also a trend towards a better final league standing at the end of the season for teams that incurred fewer injuries during the season.

When making comparisons between players in different positions, goalkeepers were found to be significantly taller and heavier than outfield players, with greater range of movement in hip extension and knee flexion, but their peak oxygen uptake was lower than outfield players. Goalkeepers also displayed greater leg extensor power than midfielders and defenders, and lost less time due to injury.

Midfielders were older than strikers, defenders taller than midfielders and strikers more powerful than midfielders.

The researchers comment: ‘The main finding…was that surprisingly few differences were observed in the team average test values between or within the two highest male soccer divisions in Iceland. Moreover, the relationship between team average performance on the various tests and team success expressed as final league standing was generally weak. Finally, goalkeepers appeared to have a different fitness profile from the other player positions, whereas the three groups of outfield players were similar in their performance on the tests.’

The researchers conclude that their limited ability to predict team performance from physical fitness tests suggests that other factors may be more important, such as player technique, team tactics, psychological factors or injuries.

‘This does not mean,’ they hasten to add, ‘that a team with superior fitness would not have a definite advantage when playing an opponent with less physically fit players… Nevertheless, the ability to transform this fitness advantage to a real performance advantage would depend on a number of other factors, such as motivation, and technical and tactical skills.’

Med Sci Sports Exerc, vol 36, no 2, pp278-285, 2004

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