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Purpose: To determine if small-sided games (SSGs) could be designed to target specific task loads using the National Aeronautics and Space Administration task load index as well as reporting the influence of the physical and technical demands. Methods: Using a within-session, repeated-measures design, 26 junior rugby league players completed 5 SSGs focused on physical, technical, temporal, cognitive, and frustration task loads. National Aeronautics and Space Administration task load index responses were evaluated after each game; the physical demands were recorded using microtechnology; and skill involvement recorded using video analysis. Results: In each SSG, the task load emphasized (eg, physical load/physical game) emerged with a higher score than the other loads and SSGs. The physical demands were lowest during the physical game (effect size = −3.11 to 3.50) and elicited greater defensive involvements (effect size = 0.12 to 3.19). The highest physical demands and attacking involvements were observed during the temporal game. Lower intensity activities were generally negatively associated with physical, performance, temporal, and total load (η2 = −.07 to −.43) but positively associated with technical, effort, cognitive, and frustration (η2 = .01 to .33). Distance covered in total and at higher speeds was positively associated with physical, effort, performance, total load (η2 = .18 to .65), and negatively associated with technical, frustration, and cognitive load (η2 = −.10 to −.36). Attacking and defensive involvements generally increased the respective task loads (η2 = .03 to .41). Conclusion: Coaches and sport scientists can design SSGs specifically targeted at subjective task loads in a sport-specific manner and through manipulation of the physical and technical demands.
Dobbin is with the Dept of Health Professions, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, United Kingdom. Atherton is with the Performance Dept, Wigan Warriors Rugby League Football Club, Wigan, United Kingdom. Hill is with the Dept of Sport and Exercise Sciences, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, United Kingdom.