To assess the effects of mental fatigue on physical and technical performance in small-sided soccer games.
Twenty soccer players (age 17.8 ± 1.0 y, height 179 ± 5 cm, body mass 72.4 ± 6.8 kg, playing experience 8.3 ± 1.4 y) from an Australian National Premier League soccer club volunteered to participate in this randomized crossover investigation. Participants played 15-min 5-vs-5 small-sided games (SSGs) without goalkeepers on 2 occasions separated by 1 wk. Before the SSG, 1 team watched a 30-min emotionally neutral documentary (control), while the other performed 30 min of a computer-based Stroop task (mental fatigue). Subjective ratings of mental and physical fatigue were recorded before and after treatment and after the SSG. Motivation was assessed before treatment and SSG; mental effort was assessed after treatment and SSG. Player activity profiles and heart rate (HR) were measured throughout the SSG, whereas ratings of perceived exertion (RPEs) were recorded before the SSG and immediately after each half. Video recordings of the SSG allowed for notational analysis of technical variables.
Subjective ratings of mental fatigue and effort were higher after the Stroop task, whereas motivation for the upcoming SSG was similar between conditions. HR during the SSG was possibly higher in the control condition, whereas RPE was likely higher in the mental-fatigue condition. Mental fatigue had an unclear effect on most physical-performance variables but impaired most technical-performance variables.
Mental fatigue impairs technical but not physical performance in small-sided soccer games.
Badin, Smith, and Coutts are with the Sport and Exercise Discipline Group, University of Technology Sydney, Sydney, Australia. Conte is with the Dept of Movement, Human and Health Sciences, University of Rome “Foro Italico”, Rome, Italy.