Physical condition is, in football, one of the easiest parameters to use to explain moments when teams are below their expected performance, when they break in late stages of the games, or decreases in performance in more congested periods of games. It is unanimous that elite footballers need to be at the peak of their abilities to meet the tactical, technical and physical demands of the sport. Maybe it's important, then, to start from this hierarchy to start discriminating what is relevant in the footballer's preparation. As the player's training time and physical availability are limited, it is important to be judicious in choosing the most relevant content for the performance of the athletes and the team. It is, in the end, in the hierarchy of these contents that a considerable part of the coach's role is substantiated. Thus, the player's position in the first instance, its differentiating characteristics, and the tactical mission it plays in the team's game model seem to be key points to answer the million dollar question: what is being in a good shape?
There are, of course, safeguards to be made. Some of the indicators may be global: for example, body morphology, joint stability, strength, flexibility, or agility/coordination levels may be determining factors in the likelihood of the onset of injury. However, even before the incidence of injury, we try to talk about performance here: the game is rich in intermittence, successive actions and varied intensities; slow activity often contrasts with high intensities; the growing intensity of the game means that, in recent years, the anaerobic demand has been superimposed on the aerobic one, decisive in actions such as jumping higher or running faster; at the same time, the variability of the game's gestures makes decisive skills such as aerobic, anaerobic, strength, muscular endurance, speed, agility and flexibility.
In this panoply of requested skills and in the specificity of the game, the tremendous difficulty in creating analytical situations that simulate its nature is born. Part of this difficulty is also due to the fact that, as mentioned, the key to success in the periodization of training tasks lies in understanding when and how, that is, a clear definition of what matters most and at what times. Not wanting to go deep into periodization chapter, let's fix the issue of specificity: not all athletes can be extraordinary in everything. However, the team tends to function as a kind of orchestra, living the collective harmony of different instruments, played in different rhythms. It is in this complementarity that it is urgent to identify:
1) what tactical mission do I want to assign to this position in my model?;
2) what are the differentiating characteristics of this player and how can he help make my team better?;
3) what shortcomings affect their performance in my way of playing? Is it better to improve them individuality, camouflage them in the collective, or is it possible to do it simultaneously?
In this sense, after answering some of these questions and a clear definition of a set of ideas that substantiate the model, at an early stage, and the game plan, at a later stage, it should be sought that the players evolve towards the compliance with the assumptions of this model under the best possible conditions. If my model requires my lines to be raised, and the game plan includes the possibility of the opponent regularly looking for depth, I may need the defensive line to react and move fast; if my game model implies that the striker is frequently requested in aerial play, it may be relevant to look for him to have good impulsion capacity, but… what is the use of impulsion capacity without the timing of attacking the ball? Without the temporal and spatial ability to understand where the opponent is, the defensive line, the ball and the goal?
It is in the light of this that it seems important to us that an improvement in physical condition is always allocated an improvement in the ability to… play the game; not just any game, but the game of specificity: those that allows exponentiating individual characteristics and making it appear more often; those related with position and, finally, those associated with the best physical condition to play a specific model, with concrete ideas. The team will be in the best shape the more faithfully it is able to play its game at high intensities and with the right choices.
This article is not alien, of course, from the urgency of preventive work on injuries, which should allude to the player's clinical history, to the specificity of his physical condition, but also to combating maladjusted strength ratios, or combating the most recurrent problems of the footballer, such as sprains or injuries to the hamstrings. However, at the limit, isn't the substantial increase in injuries in the last minutes of each part – especially in the second – related to fatigue and, consequently, with some lack of neuromuscular control and the ability to maintain dynamic joint stability in fatigue? Is it not possible to fight the injury by creating specialists, in fatigue, in prolonged maintenance over time and in controlled intensities in training, in a specific tactical-technical task specific to the coach's game model? That is, experts in… playing?
Article written by Alexandre Costa, fitness coach from of Bruno Dias' technical staff.
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