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Higher log position is not associated with better physical fitness in professional soccer teams

By Emmerentia Nel

Posted on 14 April 2010

Fitness assessments at ISR
Fitness assessments at ISR

A higher position on the log does not necessarily mean that a professional teamís players are fitter than their opponents lower down on the log. However, it seems that on a soccer pitch, old dogs can teach some of the younger ones new tricks!

Jimmy Clark of the Institute for Sports Research at the University of Pretoria, tested 140 professional South African soccer players as part of his research. Players were assessed in several important physiological components during the early part of their competitive season. Players were then separated into two groups on the basis of their teams’ final log position in the Premier Soccer League (PSL) in South Africa. Seventy players in successful and less-successful teams respectively were in the top four or bottom six positions on the log respectively. The athletes were then tested in terms of body composition, flexibility, muscle strength-endurance, power, speed, agility, aerobic endurance and repeat sprint distance.

The surprise findings showed that there were no significant differences between groups for all measures of body composition, flexibility, repeat sprint distance, and agility. Although significant differences were found for sit-ups, aerobic endurance and speed, these did not translate to meaningful differences in performance. What was interesting, however, is that players in successful squads were significantly older than those in less-successful teams.

“Factors other than physical fitness may be more important in determining successful league performance and discriminate better between players in teams with different levels of success. Improving professional soccer performance may require coaches and trainers to focus more attention on technical and tactical skill development in sport-specific training once an acceptable standard of fitness has been attained,” says Clark.

Sports scientist, Shona Hendricks of the ISR, agrees that, on an international scale, the top teams in the world are not necessarily the fittest. "The top teams on the international rankings will tend to have similar levels of fitness, as that is the basic requirement to be able to play quality football, but I do not think that if you are the fittest team you will necessarily be the world champions," says Hendricks.

"To win the most games you need to do a lot more than just be fit. I am not saying that fitness is not important, it is vital especially to a sport like soccer, but it is not the sole determinant of success. I am a firm believer in the fact that success in sport can never be determined by a single component, for example fitness. It is about a combination of many components (coaching, skills, tactics, players, psychological factors, fitness, team relationships etc) that makes a team a winning team. When a team has the ability to maximize the potential of each of those components they tend to be successful," explains Hendricks.

Click here for the full research report that was published in the SA Journal of Sports Medicine.



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