Secondary Logo

Journal Logo

Original Research

Time-Motion Analysis of Small-Sided Training Games and Competition in Elite Women Soccer Players

Gabbett, Tim J1; Mulvey, Mike J2

Author Information
Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: March 2008 - Volume 22 - Issue 2 - p 543-552
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181635597
  • Free

Abstract

Introduction

Time-motion analysis has been used extensively to investigate the movement patterns and activity profiles of male soccer competition (2,15,19,21,24,28,29). Early time-motion studies revealed that most match play was spent in low-intensity activities (i.e., standing, walking, and jogging), with elite players covering 9-12 km during a match (1,2,17,21,23,28). More recently, studies have shown that players of a higher competitive standard cover a greater total distance (10.9 vs. 10.3 km) and perform significantly more high-intensity running than those of a lower standard (17).

Despite the wealth of information on male soccer competitors, information on the movement patterns and activity profiles of women's soccer competition is limited (14). Krustrup et al. (14) investigated the movement patterns of elite women's Danish soccer competition and reported that players covered a total distance of 10.3 km during the course of a match, with high-intensity running accounting for 1.3 km. Although Krustrup et al. (14) provided valuable information on the movement patterns and activity profiles of elite women's soccer competitors in a national standard competition, it is unclear whether the physiological demands are further increased in international competition. In addition, although these studies provided information on the overall movement patterns of soccer and the high-intensity component of competition, no information was provided on the ability of players to perform repeated short-duration sprints during a short period of time. Spencer et al. (27) investigated the repeated-sprint demands of elite field hockey and reported that repeated-sprint bouts (defined as a minimum of three sprints, with recovery of less than 21 seconds between sprints) occurred on 17 occasions throughout the match. The number of sprints within the repeated-sprint bouts was three to seven, with a mean recovery time of 14.9 seconds between sprints. Approximately 95% of the recovery time between sprints was active in nature. To date, no study has investigated the repeated-sprint demands of soccer with respect to the duration of sprints, number of sprint repetitions, recovery duration, and recovery intensity. Clearly, without an understanding of the most extreme demands of competition, the development of game-specific conditioning programs to tolerate these demands becomes problematic.

Small-sided training games are increasingly being used as a means of improving the skill and physical fitness levels of team sport athletes from a wide variety of soccer codes (7,8-11,18,22,25,26). The use of small-sided training games as training drills allows the simulation of movement patterns of team sports while maintaining a competitive environment in which athletes must perform under pressure and fatigue (9,10). Perhaps more importantly, small-sided training games offer an additional challenge to team sport athletes that would not normally be present in non-skill-related conditioning activities. In a study of rugby league players, Gabbett (8) found similar heart rate (152 vs. 155 b·min−1) and blood lactate concentrations (5.2 vs. 5.2 mmol·L−1) during competition and training consisting entirely of small-sided training games. Reilly and White (22) compared the effectiveness of 6 weeks of aerobic interval training and small-sided training games on improvements in muscular power, agility, skill, anaerobic capacity, and maximal aerobic power in professional academy soccer players. There were no significant differences between groups for any of the performance tests after training. The authors concluded that small-sided training games were acceptable substitutes for aerobic interval training in maintaining fitness during the competitive season. Gamble (11) reported significant improvements in aerobic fitness after a 9-week preseason training period consisting entirely of small-sided training games in elite rugby union players. Furthermore, in a study of rugby league players, it was demonstrated that most training injuries (37.5%) were sustained in traditional conditioning activities that involved no skill component (i.e., running without the ball), whereas the incidence of injuries in small-sided training games was low (10.7%) (10). Collectively, these findings suggest that small-sided training games offer a safe, effective, and specific method of conditioning for soccer players. However, it is unclear whether small-sided training games simulate the high-intensity movement patterns and repeated-sprint demands of international soccer competition in elite women players.

The purpose of the present study was to investigate the movement patterns and activity profiles of small-sided training games and compare these demands with national and international standard competition in elite women soccer players. We also investigated the movement patterns and activity profiles of domestic matches against male youth teams to determine whether competition against male players influenced the intensity of elite women's soccer competition. Finally, the repeated-sprint demands of elite women's soccer competition were investigated.

Methods

Experimental Approach to the Problem

In the present study, we investigated the movement patterns of small-sided training games and compared these demands with domestic, national, and international standard competition in elite women soccer players. We hypothesized that small-sided training games would offer a specific training stimulus to simulate the movement patterns (i.e., overall exercise to rest ratios, relative proportion of high-intensity running, and repeated-sprint demands) of competition.

Subjects

Thirteen elite women soccer players [(mean ± SD) age, 21 ± 2 years; maximal oxygen consumption, 51.4 ± 5.4 mL·kg−1·min−1] participated in this study. Athletes were scholarship holders with the Queensland Academy of Sport Women's soccer program and/or members of the Australian Matildas women's soccer team. In addition to the five skill-based sessions (i.e., small-sided training games), players performed two strength training sessions and two field conditioning sessions each week. All participants received a clear explanation of the study, including the risks and benefits of participation, and written consent was obtained. The institutional review board for human investigation approved all experimental procedures.

Time-Motion Analysis

Time-motion analysis was completed during training and competitive matches. All training sessions (n = 39) consisted of small-sided (i.e., three versus three and five versus five) training games that were played on a reduced-sized pitch (approximate dimensions 50 × 50 m). The small-sided training games were designed to develop technical skills (e.g., trapping, passing, and maintaining possession in small workspaces) and tactical understanding and were often played with several balls to ensure continuity of match play. Matches consisted of domestic competition against male youth teams (n = 10), Australian national-league matches (n = 9), and international matches (n = 12). All matches were 90 minutes in duration with training sessions ranging from 20 to 45 minutes in duration. Only field players (i.e., strikers, mid-fielders, and defenders) were filmed. If a player was unavailable for filming (e.g., due to injury or non-selection), a player from the same position was filmed. Of the players filmed in training, 86% were also tracked on at least one occasion in domestic, national-league, and international matches.

Video recordings were made using 37-mm digital video cameras (Sony, DCR-TRV 950E). Cameras were positioned in the stadium, on the half-way line, approximately 30 m above the field of play to cover the entire playing area. The zoom function of the video camera was utilized during recording so that the image of the player and a 10-m radius of her surrounds was maintained. Up to four cameras were used in any given match, and players had no knowledge of who was being filmed for each match.

The video recordings were subsequently analyzed by one experienced observer by logging frequency, distance covered, and duration of the activities performed using purpose-built software (State of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia). A catalogue of match-play activities and descriptors is provided in Table 1 (6,27). The initiation and completion of each individual activity were recorded, and the duration of each activity was calculated. The time spent standing, walking, and jogging was considered to be low-intensity exercise, with striding and sprinting regarded as high-intensity exercise. To estimate the distances covered in walking, jogging, striding, and sprinting, the players were filmed at a training session moving over a 20-m grid at each of these four speeds. Values for steps per second and meters per step were then obtained and applied to the total time spent walking, jogging, striding, and sprinting to provide an estimate of the total distance covered in each activity (5). The total distance covered in each activity was calculated from the product of the total time spent in each activity, meters per step, and steps per second (5). The typical error of measurement for test-retest reliability for the activities of standing, walking, jogging, striding, and sprinting were 0.6%, 0.3%, 2.4%, 4.6%, and 3.5%, respectively.

Table 1
Table 1:
Match-play activities used during time-motion analysis of women soccer players

Repeated-Sprint Activity

Sprinting activity was separated into two categories: the overall number of sprints during the entire match and repeated-sprint bouts. A repeated-sprint bout was defined as a minimum of three sprints, with recovery of less than 21 seconds between sprints (27). The mean, maximal, and minimal duration of sprints; number of sprint repetitions; recovery duration; and recovery intensity were also recorded.

Game-Specific Skill Involvements

Matches were also analyzed for the number of game-specific skill involvements and ball contacts in which the player was involved, using procedures modified from Withers et al. (29). Examples of game-specific skill involvements included, but were not limited to, passing, dribbling, tackling, and trapping. The typical error of measurement for test-retest reliability for the various game-specific skill involvements ranged from 0.2% to 1.8%.

Statistical Analyses

Differences in high-intensity running during the 15-minute periods throughout the match were analyzed using analysis of variance (ANOVA) with repeated measures. When required, comparisons of group means were performed using a Scheffé's post hoc test. Differences in frequency, distance covered, and time spent in the activities of standing, walking, jogging, striding, and sprinting were compared between the first and second halves using paired t-tests. Differences in time spent and distance covered in the activities of standing, walking, jogging, striding, and sprinting for small-sided training games and domestic, national, and international matches were analyzed by comparing the true difference between training and competition with the minimal clinically important difference (MCID) for that variable (12). In addition, differences in game-specific skill involvements among small-sided training games and domestic, national, and international competition were analyzed by comparing the true difference between training and competition with the MCID for that variable (12). Based on the typical error of measurement, the MCID was defined as the smallest difference perceived to be clinically significant to the average athlete. The MCID values for time spent standing, walking, jogging, striding, and sprinting were calculated as 33, 55, 40, 17, and 10 seconds, respectively. The MCID values for distance covered walking, jogging, striding, and sprinting were calculated as 76, 109, 101, and 61 m, respectively. The MCID values for the duration of sprints, number of sprint repetitions, and recovery duration in repeated-sprint bouts were calculated as 0.1, 0.2, and 0.8 seconds, respectively. The MCID values for the activities of dribbling, passing, tackling, and trapping were calculated as 1, 3, 1, and 2, respectively. The probabilities that the true difference in performance were negative, trivial, or positive are expressed as percentages, reflecting the following descriptors: <1% = almost certainly not; 1-5% = very unlikely; 5-25% = unlikely; 25-75% = possibly; 75-95% = likely; 95-99% = very likely; >99% = almost certainly (3,12). The level of significance was set at P ≤ 0.05, and all data are reported as mean ± SD.

Results

Time Spent in Small-Sided Training Games and Competition

The time spent in the various activities for small-sided training games, domestic competition against male youth teams, national-league competition, and international competition is shown in Figure 1. The absolute time spent in small-sided training games was less than spent in competition (Figure 1a). However, compared with international competition, players spent a lower proportion of time walking (100% negative/0% trivial/0% positive) and a greater proportion of time jogging (1% negative/0% trivial/99% positive) in small-sided training games. No clinically important differences were detected between small-sided training games and international competition for the percentage of time spent striding (0% negative/100% trivial/0% positive) and sprinting (0% negative/100% trivial/0% positive) (Figure 1b). Consequently, the overall exercise to rest ratios were similar among small-sided training games (1:13), domestic competition against male youth teams (1:15), national-league matches (1:16), and international competition (1:12) with an average of 4 seconds of high-intensity activity followed by 44-64 seconds of low-intensity activity. The mean striding, sprinting, and exercise bout durations for international competition were 3.5 ± 0.7, 2.4 ± 0.2, and 3.0 ± 0.4 seconds, respectively, whereas the mean maximal striding, sprinting, and exercise bout durations were 10.8 ± 2.5, 7.7 ± 2.1, and 10.8 ± 2.5 seconds, respectively (Figure 2).

Figure 1
Figure 1:
Absolute (a) and relative (b) time spent in different activities for elite women soccer players during small-sided training games, domestic competition against male youth teams, national league-competition, and international competition. Data are mean ± SD. Black bars = small-sided training games; light grey bars = domestic competition against male youth teams; white bars = national-league competition; dark grey bars = international competition.
Figure 2
Figure 2:
Frequency distribution of sprinting times during a women's international soccer match. Data are mean ± SD.

Standing, walking, and jogging accounted for 15.7%, 50.1%, and 26.7% of the total international match time, respectively. High-intensity running comprised the remaining 7.5% of the total time, with 4.8% of the total time spent in striding and 2.7% of the total time spent in sprinting. Players spent significantly (P < 0.05) more time standing (12.6% vs. 19.0%) and less time jogging (28.1% vs. 25.6%) and striding (5.6% vs. 4.0%) in the second half compared with the first half. There were no significant differences (P > 0.05) between the first and second halves for time spent walking (51.0% vs. 49.7%) and sprinting (2.7% vs. 2.8%). However, the total time spent in high-intensity running activities (i.e., striding and sprinting) was significantly less (P < 0.05) in the second half (191 ± 35 seconds; 6.8%) than in the first half (230 ± 60 seconds; 8.3%).

Distance Covered in Small-Sided Training Games and Competition

The distance covered in walking, jogging, striding, and sprinting for small-sided training games, domestic competition against male youth teams, national-league competition, and international competition is shown in Figure 3. Consistent with less time spent playing small-sided training games, the total distance covered in small-sided training games (4448 ± 1304 m) was less than all standards of competition (Figure 3a). The total distance covered in competition against male youth teams and in national-league and international competition was 9324 ± 840, 9706 ± 484, and 9968 ± 1143 m, respectively.

Figure 3
Figure 3:
Absolute (a) and relative (b) distance covered in different activities for elite women soccer players during small-sided training games, domestic competition against male youth teams, national league-competition, and international competition. Data are mean ± SD. Black bars = small-sided training games; light grey bars = domestic competition against male youth teams; white bars = national-league competition; dark grey bars = international competition.

The total distance covered during international competition decreased significantly (P < 0.05) from the first (5213 ± 735 m) to the second half (4755 ± 699 m). The distance covered in low-intensity (i.e., walking and jogging) and high-intensity (i.e., striding and sprinting) activities was 7507 ± 739 and 2461 ± 491 m, respectively. The distance covered in high-intensity running was greater (0% negative/0%trivial/100% positive) in international competition (2461 ± 491 m) than in domestic competition against male youth teams (1855 ± 483 m) and national-league competition (2014 ± 301 m). Sprinting accounted for 965 ± 305 m of the high-intensity distance covered in international competition. The distance covered in high-intensity running decreased (P < 0.05) by 16.3% from the first half (1340 ± 174 m) to the second half (1121 ± 126 m). The distance covered in high-intensity running was 15.4-28.5% lower in the last 15 minutes of each half than in the first 15 minutes of each half, with the distance covered in high-intensity running decreasing (P < 0.05) by 37.7% in the final 15 minutes of the match compared with the first 15 minutes of the match. The reduction in high-intensity running was elicited through reductions in the total distance striding (872 ± 339 vs. 625 ± 173 m; P < 0.05) but not sprinting (468 ± 137 vs. 497 ± 204 m; P > 0.05). The distance covered by mid-fielders (10,672 ± 1338 m) was greater (0% negative/0% trivial/100% positive) than that covered by attackers (9609 ± 359 m) and defenders (9621 ± 1202 m) (Table 2). In addition, mid-fielders performed more high-intensity running (0% negative/0%trivial/100% positive) than attackers and defenders.

Table 2
Table 2:
Repeated-sprint demands of small-sided training games, domestic (against male youth teams), national-league, and international competition in women soccer players

Repeated-Sprint Activity

On 58 occasions during the international matches analyzed, exercise bouts that met the criteria for repeated-sprint activity (27) were identified, resulting in 4.8 ± 2.8 bouts per player, per match. The mean number of sprints within the repeated-sprint bouts was 3.4 ± 0.8 (range, 3-6). The repeated-sprint bouts consisted of five sprints on four occasions and six sprints on only two occasions. The mean sprint duration was 2.1 ± 0.7 seconds, and the mean maximal sprint duration was 2.9 ± 0.7 seconds. The frequency distribution of recovery time between sprints revealed that most (33.7%) recovery time between sprints was 20 seconds or less (Figure 4). The mean recovery time between sprints was 5.8 ± 4.0 seconds, and most (92.6%) recovery time between sprints was active in nature (i.e., walking, jogging, and striding) (Figure 5). In contrast to international competition, repeated-sprint bouts were uncommon in small-sided training games (1.0 bout per player, per training session), domestic competition against male youth teams (1.4 bouts per player, per match), and national-league competition (1.0 bout per player, per match) (Table 3). There were no differences among positions for repeated-sprint activity with respect to the number of sprints (46% negative/4% trivial/51% positive), average sprinting duration (50% negative/2% trivial/48% positive), and maximal sprinting duration (46% negative/2% trivial/52% positive); however, the recovery between sprints was shorter for defenders (64% negative/12% trivial/24% positive) (Table 2).

Figure 4
Figure 4:
Frequency distribution of recovery times between sprints during a women's international soccer match. Data are mean ± SD.
Figure 5
Figure 5:
Recovery motions during repeated-sprint bouts performed during a women's international soccer match. Data are mean ± SD.
Table 3
Table 3:
Physiological demands, movement patterns, and repeated-sprint demands of international competition

Game-Specific Skill Involvements

The mean ± SD number of game-specific skill involvements in international competition was 76 ± 30. Most game-specific skills involved passing (29 ± 9, 32.8%), trapping (24 ± 8, 26.9%), and dribbling (14 ± 6, 16.0%). There were no significant differences (P < 0.05) between small-sided training games and competition for the various proportions of game-specific skill involvements (Figure 6).

Figure 6
Figure 6:
Absolute (a) and relative (b) number of game-specific skill involvements for elite women soccer players during small-sided training games, domestic competition against male youth teams, national league-competition, and international competition. Data are mean ± SD. Black bars = small-sided training games; light grey bars = domestic competition against male youth teams; white bars = national-league competition; dark grey bars = international competition.

Discussion

In this study, we investigated the movement patterns of small-sided training games and compared these demands with national and international competition in elite women soccer players. The results of this study demonstrate that small-sided training games offer a specific training stimulus to simulate the overall movement patterns of domestic competition against male youth teams and national-league and international competition. However, small-sided training games, domestic matches against male youth teams, and national-league matches do not simulate the high-intensity, repeated-sprint demands of international competition. These findings suggest that small-sided training games should be supplemented with game-specific training that simulates the high-intensity, repeated-sprint demands of international competition.

The present study is the first to investigate the repeated-sprint demands of women's soccer competition. The results of this study demonstrate that players perform an average of 4.8 repeated sprint bouts per player per match, with each bout comprising three to six sprints. The mean and mean maximal sprint durations are 2.1 and 2.9 seconds, respectively. In addition, the recovery duration is considerably shorter (5.8 seconds) than that typically used to assess repeated-sprint ability in soccer players (20). Spencer et al. (27) investigated the repeated-sprint demands of elite field hockey players and reported that the number of sprints within the repeated-sprint bouts was three to seven, with mean and mean maximal sprint durations of 1.8 and 4.1 seconds, respectively, and a mean recovery time of 14.9 seconds between sprints. The present results demonstrate quite different repeated-sprint demands between soccer and field hockey, suggesting that testing and training for repeated-sprint ability should differ between the two sports.

A novel approach in this study was the comparison of the movement patterns and repeated-sprint demands of small-sided training games with domestic, national, and international competition. We found that small-sided training games offered a specific training stimulus to simulate the overall movement patterns of competition; however, small-sided training games did not simulate the high-intensity, repeated-sprint demands of competition. Indeed, repeated-sprint bouts occurred an average of less than once per player in small-sided training games but occurred very frequently in international competition. In addition, although the overall exercise to rest ratio for small-sided training games (1:13) was similar to that of international competition (1:12), the large number of short-duration (i.e., 2.1 seconds) repeated-sprint bouts in international matches, coupled with the short recovery time (i.e., 5.8 seconds), demonstrate that there are frequent periods within a match when the exercise to rest ratio is extremely intense (i.e., 1:3). It is important for conditioning coaches to consider these repeated-sprint demands when prescribing repeated-sprint training for women soccer players. In addition, although this study provides important information on the repeated-sprint demands of soccer with respect to the duration of sprints, number of sprint repetitions, recovery duration, and recovery intensity, it was not possible to obtain direct measurements of running velocity during the repeated-sprint bouts. Future studies investigating the decrement in running velocity within and across repeated-sprint bouts in women's soccer competition are warranted.

In the present study, the average training time was approximately 38 minutes, whereas all international matches were 90 minutes in duration. The fewer repeated-sprint bouts during small-sided training games could be attributed to the shorter duration of training sessions and, therefore, fewer opportunities to perform repeated-sprint bouts. However, to control for the effect of differences in playing time between training sessions and matches, we also expressed repeated-sprint activity in terms of recovery between bouts. The lack of specificity of small-sided training games persisted despite expressing repeated-sprint activity relative to playing time, with repeated-sprint bouts occurring an average of once every 38 minutes in training and once every 19 minutes in international competition.

Notwithstanding the repeated-sprint demands, we found that the relative time spent standing, walking, jogging, striding, and sprinting in small-sided training games was similar to domestic competition against male youth teams, national-league matches, and international matches. In addition, the relative proportion of game-specific skill involvements (e.g., passing, dribbling) was similar between small-sided training games and all standards of competition. Collectively, these findings suggest that small-sided training games offer a specific training stimulus to simulate the overall movement patterns and technical demands of competition in elite women soccer players. Dawson et al. (4) compared the movement patterns of training and competition in elite Australian soccer league players and reported that although some match demands were adequately simulated in training, others were not. The discrepant findings between the present study and those of Dawson et al. (4) most likely reflect methodological differences with the previous study (4) investigating all training activities, whereas the present study focused solely on the movement patterns of small-sided training games. It is likely that the physiological demands of women's soccer training would be significantly reduced if all training activities were monitored.

The total distance covered in international competition was 9968 m, with players spending 92.5% of total match play in low-intensity activities (i.e., standing, walking, and jogging). The total distance covered is consistent with the findings of Krustrup et al. (14), who found that elite women soccer players competing in the premier Danish league covered 10,300 m in a match. The present and previous (14) findings demonstrate the need for a well-developed aerobic capacity to allow athletes to cover this distance in a match and to recover after high-intensity bouts of activity.

High-intensity running (i.e., striding and sprinting) comprised 7.5% of the total international match play, with standing, walking, and jogging comprising 15.7%, 50.1%, and 26.7%, respectively. These findings are consistent with other time-motion studies, which found that most soccer match play is spent in low-intensity activity separated by short bouts of high-intensity activity (2,14,21,23,29). The overall mean time spent striding and sprinting was 3.5 s and 2.4 seconds, respectively. The high-intensity to low-intensity exercise to rest ratio was 1:12, with an average of 4 seconds of high-intensity activity followed by approximately 48 seconds of low-intensity activity. Although the average duration of sprints (2.4 seconds) and striding movements (3.5 seconds) suggest that most of the energy required to perform high-intensity exercise is derived from the ATP-CP system, the range of sprinting and striding tasks (up to 7.7 and 10.8 seconds, respectively) demonstrate that energy is also derived from the glycolytic energy system. Collectively, these findings demonstrate the need for specific training of the anaerobic alactic (ATP-CP), anaerobic glycolytic, and aerobic energy systems in women soccer players.

Greater total distance was covered in the first half (5213 m) than in the second half (4755 m). In addition, more high-intensity running was performed in the first half (230 seconds, 1340 m) than in the second half (191 seconds, 1121 m). Indeed, the distance covered in high-intensity running was 15.4-28.5% less in the last 15 minutes of each half than in the first 15 minutes of each half, with the distance covered in high-intensity running decreasing by 37.7% in the final 15 minutes of the match. The finding of a reduction in high-intensity running performance throughout the match is consistent with previous studies of male soccer players (17). The ability to perform high-intensity exercise has been shown to be an important predictor of success in soccer (13), with elite players able to perform more high-intensity running than their less skilled counterparts (17). Previous studies (16,17) have suggested that player fatigue may be responsible for the reduction in high-intensity running performances that occur during the course of a match. However, these results should be interpreted with caution as the physiological demands and movement patterns of soccer competition can be influenced by tactical, technical, and psychological factors. In addition, although the present results reveal a reduction in overall distance covered in high-intensity running, the distance covered in sprinting did not change significantly during the course of the match. If fatigue alone was responsible for the reduction in high-intensity running performance, then it would also be reasonable to expect a reduction in sprinting performance during the match.

Mid-fielders covered a greater total distance and performed more high-intensity running than attackers and defenders. These findings are in agreement with those of Reilly and Thomas (21), who found that mid-fielders covered a greater total distance than attackers and defenders in professional men soccer players. In addition, the finding that mid-fielders performed more high-intensity running than other positional groups is consistent with some (17), but not all (1,29), studies of the physiological demands of men's soccer competition. Consequently, the overall work to rest ratios for mid-fielders, attackers, and defenders were 1:10, 1:13, and 1:15, respectively. The major new finding of this study is the similar repeated-sprint demands for different playing positions. Although mid-fielders performed more repeated-sprint bouts in a match, the number of sprints and sprinting duration were similar among playing positions. Indeed, recovery duration between sprints was the only repeated-sprint variable to differ considerably among defenders (4.3 seconds), mid-fielders (6.6 seconds), and attackers (6.7 seconds).

In conclusion, in this study, we investigated the movement patterns of small-sided training games and compared these demands with national and international competition in elite women soccer players. The results of this study demonstrate that small-sided training games offer a specific training stimulus to simulate the overall movement patterns of domestic competition against male youth teams and national and international competition. However, small-sided training games, domestic matches against male youth teams, and national-league matches do not simulate the high-intensity, repeated-sprint demands of international competition. These findings suggest that small-sided training games should be supplemented with game-specific training that simulates the high-intensity, repeated-sprint demands of international competition.

Practical Applications

The present study is the first to investigate the movement patterns of small-sided training games and compare these demands with domestic, national, and international competition in elite women soccer players. In addition, no study has investigated the repeated-sprint demands of international soccer competition. The results of this study demonstrate that small-sided training games can be used to effectively simulate the overall movement patterns of domestic, national, and international competition. However, small-sided training games do not simulate the high-intensity, repeated-sprint demands of international competition. From a practical perspective, these results demonstrate that small-sided training games should be supplemented with game-specific training that simulates the high-intensity, repeated-sprint demands of competition.

Although the small-sided training games used in this study did not simulate the high-intensity, repeated-sprint demands of international competition, it should be recognized that the small-sided training games were specifically designed to develop technical skills and greater tactical understanding and awareness. Coaches can modify the content and nature of small-sided training games (e.g., by modifying pitch dimensions and rules, player numbers, and number of balls) to increase the physiological demands of the training stimulus. In addition, the use of one-on-one “mark-ups” (in which defenders continually mark the same attacking player) are likely to increase the repeated-sprint demands of training, by forcing players to sprint in defense, rapidly recover, then mount an effective counterattack.

Note: At the time of this study, the primary author was employed by the Queensland Academy of Sport, Brisbane, Australia.

Acknowledgments

The authors express their appreciation to the athletes for their involvement in this study. The authors have no conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this article.

References

1. Bangsbo, J. The physiology of soccer: with special reference to intense intermittent exercise. Acta Physiol Scand 151: 619, 1994.
2. Bangsbo, J, Norregaard, L, and Thorsoe, F. Activity profile of competition soccer. Can J Sports Sci 16: 110-116, 1991.
3. Batterham, AM and Hopkins, WG. Making meaningful inferences about magnitudes. Int J Sports Physiol Perform 1: 50-57, 2006.
4. Dawson, B, Hopkinson, R, Appleby, B, Stewart, G, and Roberts, C. Comparison of training activities and game demands in the Australian Soccer League. J Sci Med Sport 7: 292-301, 2004.
5. Dawson, B, Hopkinson, R, Appleby, B, Stewart, G, and Roberts, C. Player movement patterns and game activities in the Australian Soccer League. J Sci Med Sport 7: 278-291, 2004.
6. Duthie, G, Pyne, D, and Hooper, S. Time motion analysis of 2001 and 2002 super 12 rugby. J Sports Sci 23: 523-530, 2005.
7. Eniseler, N. Heart rate and blood lactate concentrations as predictors of physiological load on elite soccer players during various soccer training activities. J Strength Cond Res 19: 799-804, 2005.
8. Gabbett, TJ. Science of rugby league soccer: a review. J Sports Sci 23: 961-976, 2005.
9. Gabbett, TJ. Skill-based conditioning games as an alternative to traditional conditioning for rugby league players. J Strength Cond Res 20: 309-314, 2006.
10. Gabbett, TJ. Training injuries in rugby league: an evaluation of skill-based conditioning games. J Strength Cond Res 16: 236-241, 2002.
11. Gamble, P. A skill-based conditioning games approach to metabolic conditioning for elite rugby soccer players. J Strength Cond Res 18: 491-497. 2004.
12. Hopkins, WG. Probabilities of clinical or practical significance. Sportscience. Available at http://6:sportsci.org/jour/0201/wghprob.htm, 2002.
13. Krustrup, P, Mohr, M, Amstrup, T, Rysgaard, T, Johansen, J, Steensberg, A, Pedersen, PK, and Bangsbo, J. The Yo-Yo intermittent recovery test: physiological response, reliability and validity. Med Sci Sports Exerc 35: 695-705, 2003.
14. Krustrup, P, Mohr, M, Ellingsgaard, H, and Bangsbo, J. Physical demands during an elite female soccer game: importance of training status. Med Sci Sports Exerc 37: 1242-1248, 2005.
15. Mayhew, SR and Wenger, HA. Time-motion analysis of professional soccer. J Hum Movem Stud 11: 49-52, 1985.
16. Mohr, M, Krustrup, P, and Bangsbo, J. Fatigue in soccer: a brief review. J Sports Sci 23: 593-599, 2005.
17. Mohr, M, Krustrup, P, and Bangsbo, J. Match performance of high-standard soccer players with special reference to development of fatigue. J Sports Sci 21: 519-528, 2003.
18. Nurmekivi, A, Karu, T, Pihl, E, Jurimae, T, Kaarna, K, and Kangasniemi, J. Comparative evaluation of the influence of small game 4 vs 4 and running load in the training of young soccer players. Acta Kinesiol Universitat Tartuensis 7: 77-86, 2002.
19. Ohashi, J, Togari, H, Isokawa, M, and Suzuki, S. Measuring movement speeds and distance covered during soccer match-play. In: Science and Soccer. Reilly T, Lees A, Davids K, and Murphy WJ, eds. London: E & FN Spon. 1988, pp. 434-440.
20. Rebelo, N, Krustrup, P, Soares, J, and Bangsbo, J. Reduction in intense intermittent exercise performance during a soccer match. J Sports Sci 16: 482-483, 1998.
21. Reilly, T and Thomas, V. A motion analysis of work-rate in different positional roles in professional soccer match-play. J Hum Movem Stud 2: 87-97, 1976.
22. Reilly, T and White, C. Small-sided games as an alternative to interval training for soccer players. In: Science and Soccer V. Reilly T, Cabri J, and Araujo D, eds. New York: Routledge. 2005, pp. 344-347.
23. Rienzi, E, Drust, B, Reilly, T, Carter, JEL, and Martin A. Investigation of anthropometric and work-rate profiles of elite South American international soccer players. J Sports Med Phys Fit 40: 162-169, 1998.
24. Rohde, HC and Espersen, T. Work intensity during soccer training and match-play. In: Science and Soccer. Reilly, T, Lees, A, Davids, K, and Murphy, WJ, eds. London: E & FN Spon. 1988, pp. 68-75.
25. Sainz, JM and Cabello, EN. Biomechanical analysis of the load imposed on under-19 soccer players during some typical soccer training drills. In: Science and Soccer V. T Reilly, J Cabri, and D Araujo, eds. London: Routledge. 2005, pp. 353-356.
26. Sassi, R, Reilly, T, and Impellizzeri, F. A comparison of small-sided games and interval training in elite professional soccer players. In: Science and Soccer V. Reilly T, Cabri J, and Araujo D, eds. London: Routledge. 2005, pp. 341-343.
27. Spencer, M, Lawrence, S, Rechichi, C, Bishop, D, Dawson, B, and Goodman, C. Time-motion analysis of elite field hockey, with special reference to repeated-sprint activity. J Sports Sci 22: 843-850, 2004.
28. van Gool, D, van Gerven, D, and Boutmans, J. The physiological load imposed on soccer players during real match-play. In: Science and Soccer. Reilly, T, Lees, A, Davids, K, and Murphy WJ, eds. London: E & FN Spon. 1988, pp. 51-59.
29. Withers, RT, Maricic, Z, Wasilewski, S, and Kelly, L. Match analysis of Australian professional soccer players. J Hum Movem Stud 8: 159-176, 1982.
Keywords:

physiological demands; performance; repeated-sprint activity; movement patterns; match analysis; soccer

© 2008 National Strength and Conditioning Association