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Martin Buchheit and Ben Michael Simpson

With the ongoing development of microtechnology, player tracking has become one of the most important components of load monitoring in team sports. The 3 main objectives of player tracking are better understanding of practice (provide an objective, a posteriori evaluation of external load and locomotor demands of any given session or match), optimization of training-load patterns at the team level, and decision making on individual players’ training programs to improve performance and prevent injuries (eg, top-up training vs unloading sequences, return to play progression). This paper discusses the basics of a simple tracking approach and the need to integrate multiple systems. The limitations of some of the most used variables in the field (including metabolic-power measures) are debated, and innovative and potentially new powerful variables are presented. The foundations of a successful player-monitoring system are probably laid on the pitch first, in the way practitioners collect their own tracking data, given the limitations of each variable, and how they report and use all this information, rather than in the technology and the variables per se. Overall, the decision to use any tracking technology or new variable should always be considered with a cost/benefit approach (ie, cost, ease of use, portability, manpower/ability to affect the training program).

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Hani Al Haddad, Ben M. Simpson and Martin Buchheit

This study compares different approaches to monitor changes in jump and sprint performance while using either the best or the average performance of repeated trials. One hundred two highly trained young footballers (U13 to U17) performed, in 2 different testing sessions separated by 4 mo, 3 countermovement jumps (n = 87) and 2 sprints (n = 98) over 40 m with 10-m splits to assess acceleration (first 10 m) and maximal sprinting speed (best split, MSS). Standardized group-average changes between the 2 testing periods and the typical error (TE) were calculated and compared for each method. The likelihood of substantial changes in performance for each individual player was also calculated. There was a small increase in jump performance (+6.1% for best and +7% for average performance). While 10-m time was likely unchanged (+~1.2% for both best and average performance), MSS showed likely small improvements (+~2.0% for both best and average performance). The TEs for jumping performance were 4.8% (90% confidence limits 4.3;5.6) and 4.3% (3.8;5.0) for best and average values, respectively; 1.8% (1.6;2.1) and 1.7% (1.5;1.9) for 10-m time and 2.0% (1.8;2.3) and 2.0% (1.8;2.3) for MSS. The standardized differences between TE were likely unclear or trivial for all comparisons (eg, 10-m, 0.01 [–0.09;0.10]). The numbers of players showing a likely increase or decrease in performance were 30/0 and 29/0 for best and average jump performances, 9/4 and 12/2 for 10-m times, and 33/4 and 33/4 for MSS. In conclusion, the 2 monitoring approaches are likely to provide similar outcomes.

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Martin Buchheit, Mathieu Lacome, Yannick Cholley and Ben Michael Simpson

Purpose: To examine the reliability of field-based running-specific measures of neuromuscular function assessed using global positioning system (GPS)–embedded accelerometers and their responses to 3 typical conditioned sessions (ie, strength, endurance, and speed) in elite soccer players. Methods: Before and immediately after each session, vertical jump (countermovement jump [CMJ]) and adductor squeeze strength (groin) performances were recorded. Players also performed a 4-min run at 12 km/h followed by four ∼60-m runs (run = 12 s, r = 33 s). GPS (5 Hz) and accelerometer (100 Hz) data collected during the 4 runs and the recovery periods, excluding the last recovery period, were used to derive vertical stiffness (K), peak loading force (peak force over all the foot strikes [F peak]), and propulsion efficiency (ie, the ratio between velocity and force loads [Vl/Fl]). Results: Typical errors were small (CMJ, groin, K, and Vl/Fl) and moderate (F peak), with moderate (F peak), high (K and Vl/Fl), and very high ICCs (CMJ and groin). After all sessions, there were small decreases in groin and increases in K, but changes in F were all unclear. By contrast, the CMJ and Vl/Fl ratio responses were session dependent. There was a small increase in CMJ after speed and endurance, but unclear changes after strength; the Vl/Fl ratio increased substantially after strength, but there were a small and a moderate decrease after endurance and speed, respectively. Conclusions: Running-specific measures of neuromuscular function assessed in the field via GPS-embedded accelerometers show acceptable levels of reliability. Although the 3 sessions examined may be associated with limited neuromuscular fatigue, changes in neuromuscular performance and propulsion efficiency are likely session-objective dependent.

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Mathieu Lacome, Ben M. Simpson, Yannick Cholley and Martin Buchheit

Purpose: To (1) compare the locomotor and heart rate responses between floaters and regular players during both small and large small-sided games (SSGs) and (2) examine whether the type of game (ie, game simulation [GS] vs possession game [PO]) affects the magnitude of the difference between floaters and regular players. Methods: Data were collected in 41 players belonging to an elite French football team during 3 consecutive seasons (2014–2017). A 5-Hz global positionning system was used to collect all training data, with the Athletic Data Innovation analyzer (v5.4.1.514) used to derive total distance (m), high-speed distance (>14.4 km·h−1, m), and external mechanical load (MechL, a.u.). All SSGs included exclusively 1 floater and were divided into 2 main categories, according to the participation of goalkeepers (GS) or not (PO) and then further divided into small and large (>100 m2per player) SSGs based on the area per player ratio. Results: Locomotor activity and MechL performed were likely-to-most likely lower (moderate to large magnitude) in floaters compared with regular players, whereas differences in heart rate responses were unclear to possibly higher (small) in floaters. The magnitude of the difference in locomotor activity and MechL between floaters and regular players was substantially greater during GS compared with PO. Conclusions: Compared with regular players, floaters present decreased external load (both locomotor and MechL) despite unclear to possibly slightly higher heart rate responses during SSGs. Moreover, the responses of floaters compared with regular players are not consistent across different sizes of SSGs, with greater differences during GS than PO.

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Martin Buchheit, Ben M. Simpson, Esa Peltola and Alberto Mendez-Villanueva

The aim of the present study was to locate the fastest 10-m split time (Splitbest) over a 40-m sprint in relation to age and maximal sprint speed in highly trained young soccer players. Analyses were performed on 967 independent player sprints collected in 223 highly trained young football players (Under 12 to Under 18). The maximal sprint speed was defined as the average running speed during Splitbest. The distribution of the distance associated with Splitbest was affected by age (X 2 3 = 158.7, P < .001), with the older the players, the greater the proportion of 30-to-40-m Splitbest. There was, however, no between-group difference when data were adjusted for maximal sprint speed. Maximal sprint speed is the main determinant of the distance associated with Splitbest. Given the important disparity in Splitbest location within each age group, three (U12-U13) to two (U14-U18) 10-m intervals are still required to guarantee an accurate evaluation of maximal sprint speed in young players when using timing gates.

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Mathieu Lacome, Ben Simpson, Nick Broad and Martin Buchheit

Purpose: To examine the ability of multivariate models to predict the heart-rate (HR) responses to some specific training drills from various global positioning system (GPS) variables and to examine the usefulness of the difference in predicted vs actual HR responses as an index of fitness or readiness to perform. Method: All data were collected during 1 season (2016–17) with players’ soccer activity recorded using 5-Hz GPS and internal load monitored using HR. GPS and HR data were analyzed during typical small-sided games and a 4-min standardized submaximal run (12 km·h−1). A multiple stepwise regression analysis was used to identify which combinations of GPS variables showed the largest correlations with HR responses at the individual level (HRACT, 149 [46] GPS/HR pairs per player) and was further used to predict HR during individual drills (HRPRED). Then, HR predicted was compared with actual HR to compute an index of fitness or readiness to perform (HRΔ, %). The validity of HRΔ was examined while comparing changes in HRΔ with the changes in HR responses to a submaximal run (HRRUN, fitness criterion) and as a function of the different phases of the season (with fitness being expected to increase after the preseason). Results: HRPRED was very largely correlated with HRACT (r = .78 [.04]). Within-player changes in HRΔ were largely correlated with within-player changes in HRRUN (r = .66, .50–.82). HRΔ very likely decreased from July (3.1% [2.0%]) to August (0.8% [2.2%]) and most likely decreased further in September (−1.5% [2.1%]). Conclusions: HRΔ is a valid variable to monitor elite soccer players’ fitness and allows fitness monitoring on a daily basis during normal practice, decreasing the need for formal testing.

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Hani Al Haddad, Ben M. Simpson, Martin Buchheit, Valter Di Salvo and Alberto Mendez-Villanueva

This study assessed the relationship between peak match speed (PMS) and maximal sprinting speed (MSS) in regard to age and playing positions. MSS and absolute PMS (PMSAbs) were collected from 180 male youth soccer players (U13–U17, 15.0 ± 1.2 y, 161.5 ± 9.2 cm, and 48.3 ± 8.7 kg). The fastest 10-m split over a 40-m sprint was used to determine MSS. PMSAbs was recorded using a global positioning system and was also expressed as a percentage of MSS (PMSRel). Sprint data were compared between age groups and between playing positions. Results showed that regardless of age and playing positions, faster players were likely to reach higher PMSAbs and possibly lower PMSRel. Despite a lower PMSAbs than in older groups (eg, 23.4 ± 1.8 vs 26.8 ± 1.9 km/h for U13 and U17, respectively, ES = 1.9 90%, confidence limits [1.6;2.1]), younger players reached a greater PMSRel (92.0% ± 6.3% vs. 87.2% ± 5.7% for U13 and U17, respectively, ES = –0.8 90% CL [–1.0;–0.5]). Playing position also affected PMSAbs and PMSRel, as strikers were likely to reach higher PMSAbs (eg, 27.0 ± 2.7 vs 23.6 ± 2.2 km/h for strikers and central midfielders, respectively, ES = 2.0 [1.7;2.2]) and PMSRel (eg, 93.6% ± 5.2% vs 85.3% ± 6.5% for strikers and central midfielders, respectively, ES = 1.0 [0.7;1.3]) than all other positions. The findings confirm that age and playing position affect the absolute and relative intensity of speed-related actions during matches.

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Alberto Mendez-Villanueva, Martin Buchheit, Sami Kuitunen, Tsz Kit Poon, Ben Simpson and Esa Peltola

The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between maximal sprinting (MSS) and aerobic (MAS) speeds in a cohort of highly-trained young male soccer players with the influence of body mass controlled for using allometric scaling. MSS and MAS were obtained in 14 pre-age at peak height velocity (APHV) players (12.3 ± 0.7 years), 21 circum-APHV players (14.3 ± 0.9 year) and 26 post-APHV players (16.9 ± 0.7 years). The three groups showed similar positive correlations between MSS and MAS (r = 0.73 to 0.52; p < .01). In conclusion, our results suggest that the relationship between MSS and MAS is not affected by maturation.

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Mathieu Lacome, Ben M. Simpson, Yannick Cholley, Philippe Lambert and Martin Buchheit

Purpose: To compare the peak intensity of typical small-sided games (SSGs) with those of official matches in terms of running demands and mechanical work (MechW) over different rolling average durations and playing positions. Methods: Data were collected in 21 players (25 [5] y, 181 [7] cm, and 77 [7] kg) belonging to an elite French football team. SSG data were collected over 2 seasons during typical training sessions (249 files, 12 [4] per player) and official matches (n = 12). Players’ locomotor activity was recorded using 5-Hz Global Positioning System. Total distance (m), high-speed distance (HS, distance above 14.4 km·h−1, m), and MechW (a.u.) were analyzed during different rolling average periods (1–15 min). The SSGs examined were 4v4+goalkeepers (GKs), 6v6+GKs, 8v8+GKs, and 10v10+GKs. Results: Peak total distance and HS during 4v4, 6v6, and 8v8 were likely-to-most likely lower than during matches (effect size: −0.59 [±0.38] to −7.36 [±1.20]). MechW during 4v4 was likely-to-most likely higher than during matches (1–4 min; 0.61 [±0.77] to 2.30 [±0.64]). Relative to their match demands, central defenders performed more HS than other positions (0.63 [±0.81] to 1.61 [±0.52]) during 6v6. Similarly, central midfielders performed less MechW than the other positions during 6v6 (0.68 [±0.72] to 1.34 [±0.99]) and 8v8 (0.73 [±0.50] to 1.39 [±0.32]). Conclusion: Peak locomotor intensity can be modulated during SSGs of various formats and durations to either overload or underload match demands, with 4v4 placing the greatest and the least emphasis on MechW and HS, respectively. Additionally, in relation to match demands central defenders and central midfielders tend to be the most and least overloaded during SSGs, respectively.

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Mathieu Lacome, Simon Avrillon, Yannick Cholley, Ben M. Simpson, Gael Guilhem and Martin Buchheit

Aim: To compare the effect of low versus high volume of eccentric-biased hamstring training programs on knee-flexor strength and fascicle length changes in elite soccer players. Methods: A total of 19 elite youth soccer players took part in this study and were randomly assigned into 2 subgroups. For 6 weeks in-season, the groups performed either a low-volume (1 set per exercise; 10 repetitions in total) or a high-volume (4 sets; 40 repetitions) eccentric training of their knee flexors. After 6-weeks midtraining (MID), players performed the alternate training regimen. Each training set consisted of 4 repetitions of the Nordic hamstring exercise and 6 repetitions of the bilateral stiff-leg deadlift. Eccentric knee-flexor strength (NordBord) as well as biceps femoris long head and semimembranosus fascicle length (scanned with ultrasound scanner) were assessed during pretraining (PRE), MID, and posttraining (POST) tests. Results: Knee-flexor eccentric strength very likely increased from PRE to MID (low volume: +11.3% [7.8%] and high volume: 11.4% [5.3%]), with a possibly-to-likely increase in biceps femoris long head (+4.5% [5.0%] and 4.8% [2.5%]) and semimembranosus (+4.3% [4.7%] and 6.3% [6.3%]) fascicle length in both groups. There was no substantial changes between MID and POST. Overall, there was no clear between-group difference in the changes from PRE to MID and MID to POST for neither knee-flexor eccentric strength, biceps femoris long head, nor semimembranosus fascicle length. Conclusions: Low-volume knee-flexor eccentric training is as effective as a greater training dose to substantially improve knee-flexor strength and fascicle length in-season in young elite soccer players. Low volume is, however, likely more appropriate to be used in an elite team facing congested schedules.