Measuring Physical Load in Soccer: Strengths and Limitations of 3 Different Methods

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Karin Fischer-Sonderegger
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Wolfgang Taube
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Martin Rumo
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Markus Tschopp
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Purpose: To investigate the strengths and limitations of different indicators to measure physical load. Furthermore, indicators were evaluated for discrimination between performance levels and playing positions. Methods: Ninety positional match files from 70 elite players and 91 match files from 69 subelite players were collected during 14 official under-18 matches using a local position measurement system. Indicators are calculated from speed, absolute acceleration (acc-abs), or percentage acceleration (acc-%). The acc-% describes the level of acceleration depending on the maximal voluntary acceleration (amax) for each initial running speed. Effect sizes (ES) were used to determine discriminative ability. Results: The number of high accelerations largely depended on the method (absolute threshold [>3 m·s−2 and >4 m·s−2] 120 and 59 efforts; high percentage threshold [>75% amax] 84 efforts). Only a small number of highly accelerated efforts reached speeds considered high-speed running (>19.8 km·h−1: 32.6%). More high acc-% exists from initial running speed >2 m·s−1 (23.0) compared with acc-abs (>3 m·s−2 14.4, >4 m·s−2 5.9). Elite players achieve higher values in most performance indicators, with ES being highest for the number of high acc-% (ES = 0.91) and high acc-abs (>3 m·s−2 ES = 0.86, >4 m·s−2 ES = 0.87), as well as for covered distance in jogging (ES = 0.94). Conclusions: Estimated physical load, discriminative ability of physical indicators, and positional requirements largely depend on the applied method. A combination of speed-based and acc-% methods is recommended to get a comprehensive view.

Fischer-Sonderegger, Rumo, and Tschopp are with the Swiss Federal Inst of Sport Magglingen, Magglingen, Switzerland. Fischer-Sonderegger and Taube are with Movement and Sport Science, Dept of Neurosciences and Movement Sciences, University of Fribourg, Fribourg, Switzerland.

Fischer-Sonderegger (karin.fischer@baspo.admin.ch) is corresponding author.
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