Team handball is an Olympic team sport that only rarely has been the object of scientific investigations. A few scientific articles available on team handball described the game as a high-impact intermittent exercise mode, which is characterized by a great number of sideward movements, jumps, and throws (8). Researchers suggested that to be played successfully, team handball players should possess a well-developed anaerobic and aerobic fitness (8,10,19).
Consequently, the measurement of motor and physical tests performance was proposed for fitness assessment (8,9,19) and talent detection in team handball (15). However, the articles that, with different purposes, addressed the issue of talent detection and development involving young team handball players only used short-term anaerobic tests and mainly explosive strength exercises (9,10,15). Furthermore, those investigations used mainly cross-sectional designs with the test employed possessing at best logical validity (22).
Match analyses showed that team handball involves a great deal of intermittent high-intensity activities that are undertaken by players throughout the game (8,17). Therefore, the ability to perform repeatedly intermittent high-intensity exercise for the entire duration of the game may be considered as a logical criterion in team handball training and testing. Additionally, training studies have reported the importance of intermittent high-intensity endurance in elite-level team handball players (10).
However, to the best of this study authors' knowledge, no field test was suggested to assess intermittent high-intensity performance possessing logical or direct validity (5) in youth team handball. Information in this context may result in great interest for training prescription and talent selection in team handball.
In light of the above-mentioned considerations, the aim of this study was to examine the direct validity (i.e., association between test and game physical attributes) of a recently developed, intermittent, high-intensity field test for endurance in young team handball players (12).
Experimental Approach to the Problem
Recent training studies showed that high-intensity endurance should be carefully trained in order players be able to cope with the increasing demands of modern team handball (10). Consequently, the assessment of the ability to perform high-intensity exercise for prolonged periods may be considered of importance in team handball for fitness assessment and talent selection.
Despite this, the assessment of endurance was carried out with submaximal or maximal continuous running tests performed in field and laboratory conditions, respectively (8-10,19). Although the information provided with those procedures was considered of interest to profile the endurance level of team handball players, those procedures at best possessed criterion validity (22). Consequently, the value of the information for training prescription and talent selection in team handball must be taken with caution from those studies.
Recently, Krustrup et al. (12) proposed an intermittent high-intensity test, the Yo-Yo intermittent recovery test (Yo-Yo IR1), that consisted of performing 2 × 20-m shuttle running bouts (40 m) interspersed with 10-second recovery until exhaustion at progressive speeds (Table 1) dictated by prerecorded audio cues. The Yo-Yo IR1 result (total distance covered) showed to possess criterion validity (i.e., association with general population o2max) and direct validity in intermittent high-intensity team sports such as male and female soccer (11-13) and youth male basketball (7).
Although not originally developed for team handball endurance assessment (12), the nature of the Yo-Yo IR1 protocol, involving intermittent, repeated, high-intensity shuttle running over a 20-m base, mimics what usually is observed in team handball actual game play (8,17). Consequently, Yo-Yo IR1 may be assumed to possess logical validity to team handball.
However, before being considering fully valid, a field test must demonstrate its association with game activities or its direct validity (5). To test Yo-Yo IR1 for direct validity, the possible relation between test results (i.e., distance covered) and game activities (distance covered and time spent in selected game activities) was studied in randomly chosen young team handball players according to the procedures previously reported by other authors (11-13). Before the commencement of the study, players were divided into 3 groups according to skill level and playing role (stratified randomization) (22) to form 3 teams of similar competitive level (i.e., G1, G2, G3). Every 48 hours and for 2 weeks, each experimental team played against 3 competitive level matched teams belonging to the Tunisian Youth Team Handball Federation (A, B, C) in a random order (see Figure 1).
During the experimental tournaments (one per week), all games (3 per team) consisted of two 25 minute halves interspersed with 10-minute interval according to the Tunisian Youth Team Handball Federation rules. During the experimental games, no substitution was allowed in order to have all players observed for approximately the same amount of playing time (7).
Within 1 week before or after the experimental tournaments, each player was tested for Yo-Yo IR1 performance (6,7). Physiological demands of Yo-Yo IR1 and competitive games were assessed monitoring exercise heart rates (HRs) and blood lactate concentrations ([la]b) at selected times (8,12,14).
Eighteen, young, male outfield team handball players, randomly chosen within a population of young team handball players, volunteered to participate in the study. The characteristics of the player involved in this study are reported in Table 2. All players were in good health conditions and passed the medical examination provided by the team physician before the commencement of the study. Before commencement of this study, written informed consent was received from all players and parents after verbal and written explanation of the experimental design and the potential risks of the study. Participants were told they were free to withdraw from the study at any time without penalty. The procedures were approved before the commencement of this study by the Institutional Review Committee Board for use of Human Subjects of the local Committee for Medical Research Ethics, according to the current Tunisian law and regulations. All the procedures considered in this study were carried out according to the Helsinki Declaration.
The assessments were performed at the same time of the day (from 5:00 to 7:00 pm for field tests and experimental tournament games), and subjects were blinded about the aims of the study. All the testing procedures were completed during the competitive season 2 months after the beginning of the national championship. The training routine of the players involved in this study consisted of 3 training sessions (∼90 minutes each session) with a competitive game played during the weekend. Training sessions mainly consisted of technical-tactical skill development (80% of sessions time) and strength and conditioning routines (20% of sessions time). Aerobic development was achieved mainly using small-sided drills (18). Sprint (i.e., 5-20 m) and plyometric (i.e., jumps and bounds) exercises were used to develop explosive power.
Yo-Yo intermittent recovery test features 2 levels differing with respect to starting speed (2). In this investigation, according to Krustrup and Bangsbo (11) and Krustrup et al. (12) and Castagna et al. (6,7), the level 1 version was used. All players were familiar with the testing procedures being part of their usual fitness assessment program. Yo-Yo IR1 test consisted of 20-m shuttle runs performed at increasing velocities (Table 2) with 10 seconds of active recovery between runs until exhaustion. Audio cues of the Yo-Yo IR1 test were recorded on a CD (www.teknosport.com, Ancona, Italy) and broadcasted using a portable CD player (Az1030 CD player; Philips, Eindhoven, Holland). The end of the test was considered when the participant twice failed to reach the front line in time (objective evaluation) or he felt not able to cover another shuttle at the dictated speed (subjective evaluation). The total distance covered during the Yo-Yo IR1 (including the last incomplete shuttle) was considered as testing score (2). All field testing sessions were performed on the same team handball court where players usually trained. Reliability of the Yo-Yo IR1 in these players' age groups as intraclass correlation and coefficient of variation (CV) were 0.96 (p < 0.001) and 3.8%, respectively. These results were similar to what was previously reported by Krustrup et al. (12) in habitually active individuals.
Game activities of the players were recorded using 2 digital video cameras (DCL TRV 130 E, Sony, Tokyo, Japan) with fixed field vision. Each video camera was positioned over a tripod 3 m above the team handball court and parallel to the edge of the court (2 m from the touchline) at 10 and 30 m distance from the goal line. Therefore, the combined view of 2 cameras covered the complete court, enabling the analysis of each player's activity. The videotapes were later replayed on a monitor for computerized coding of the activity pattern (17) (SAGIT System, Lubiana, Slovenia). Locomotor activities were categorized using the methodology reported by Bangsbo et al. (4). Speed attained during the selected activities was determined after detailed analysis of the videotape footages making players move over timed court distances. The frequency and average duration of each locomotor's activity were recorded in 5-minute periods throughout the game. The distance covered for each locomotor's activity was determined in 5-minute intervals as the product of the total time and mean speed for that activity. Before each analysis, the player's locomotive style was studied and several validation tests were performed according to the predetermined locomotive categories. The same experienced observer analyzed all match recordings included in the present study. Reliability of the system analysis was assessed before the commencement of the study (CV 1-2%).
- The considered game activities were standing (0 km·h−1), walking (6 km·h−1), jogging (8 km·h−1), low-speed running (12 km·h−1), moderate-speed running (15 km·h−1), high-speed running (18 km·h−1), sprinting (25 km·h−1), backward running (10 km·h−1), and sideward running.
The above activities were later grouped into 4 locomotor categories: (a) standing; (b) walking; (c) low-intensity running, encompassing jogging, low-speed running, and backward running; and (d) high-intensity running, consisting of moderate-speed running, high-speed running, sprinting, and sideward running.
Heart rate was monitored throughout the game and Yo-Yo IR1 using short-range telemetry (S 810; Polar Electro Oy, Kempele, Finland) using a 5-second interval recording time. Post hoc HR analyses were performed using Polar Precision System SW software (Polar Electro Oy). Heart rate monitors were placed on the player approximately 20 minutes before kickoff and Yo-Yo IR1. According to Krustrup et al. (12), peak HR recorded during the Yo-Yo IR1 was assumed as representative of maximal HR value (HRmax) in this study.
Blood lactate concentration measurements were performed sampling players' ear lobe blood 3 minutes after the end of Yo-Yo IR1 and immediately at the end of the halves during the games (Lactate Pro; Arkray, Tokyo, Japan).
Data are reported as mean ± SD and ranges. Before using parametric tests, the assumption of normality was verified using the Shapiro-Wilk W test. Pearson's product-moment correlations and linear regression analysis were used to examine the relationships between the Yo-Yo IR1 performance (m) and time-motion analysis (direct validity assessment). Comparisons between variable means were performed using paired t-tests. Significance was assumed at 5% (p ≤ 0.05) a priori. Statistical analyses were performed using SPSS package (13.0 version; SPSS, Inc., Chicago, IL, USA).
During the game were recorded 350 activity changes (range: 229-377), corresponding to an activity change for every 4.1 seconds of play. Players performed 19 ± 9 (12-23) high-intensity runs during the game whose average duration was 2.3 seconds (1.7-2.4 seconds). Sprinting, walking, and low-intensity running accounted for 7.7 ± 3.1% (5-9), 31 ± 7.3% (27-37), and 42 ± 3.6% (33-49) of the total match time, respectively. Players covered during the game 1,921 ± 170 m (1,507-2,478). During the game, players performed 118 ± 51 (95-125) passes, 47 ± 51 (37-52) receptions, 18 ± 3.7 (11-23) shots, 35 ± 4.9 (28-37) jumps, 134 ± 9.1 (102-144) bocks, and 28 ± 4.3(16-32) ball interceptions.
Maximal HR, [la]b, and distance covered during the Yo-Yo IR1 were 200 ± 2 (198-206) b·min−1, 8.8 ± 3.6 (7.5-10.1) mmol·L−1, and 1,831 ± 373 (1,440-2,440) m, respectively. Game mean HR was 174 ± 3 (range: 171-178) b·min−1, which corresponded to 87% (65-74%) of HRmax. Peak game HR was 198 ± 2 (181-200) b·min−1 that corresponded to 99% (91-100%) of HRmax. Post-game peak [la]b was 9.22 ± 2.3 (7.8-12.4) mmol·L−1. There were no significant differences between game and Yo-Yo IR1 [la]b and peak HRs (p > 0.05).
A strong and significant correlation (r = 0.88, p < 0.01, n = 18) was found between Yo-Yo IR1 performance and the total distance covered during the game (Figure 2).
Peak [la]b concentration after the Yo-Yo IR1 and the end of the games were significantly related (r = 0.51, p < 0.05). However, no correlation was observed between the results to test YIRTL1 and the technical actions quantified at the time of the matches (r = 0.15, p = 0.55).
This is the first research that examined the direct validity (5) of the Yo-Yo IR1 in male young team handball players (3). The main finding of this research was the existence of a strong and significant relationship between Yo-Yo IR1 and players' total game distance covered (r2 = 0.77, p < 0.01).
This shows that the ability to perform intermittent high-intensity exercise for prolonged periods, as measured by the Yo-Yo IR1 (3), affects game physical performance in male youth team handball players. This finding is line with soccer (11-13) and basketball studies that reported significant relationship between Yo-Yo IR1 performance and match activities or post-game physical performance variables, respectively. However, differently from this study's finding in the Krustrup and Bangsbo (11), Krustrup et al. (12,13), and Castagna et al. (7) researches, the Yo-Yo IR1 performance was related to high-intensity or maximal intensity exercises. The reported dissimilarities are probably due to differences in the nature of the games, team handball mainly requiring spot shuffling (7,17) activities during actual game play. In this study, no significant relationships were found between Yo-Yo IR1 performance and high-intensity activities, showing that differently from soccer (20), total distance covered may be regarded as a relevant measure of game activity in team handball. The reason(s) for that occurrence is difficult to be disclosed with this research design and this warrants further studies.
Differences in Yo-Yo IR1 performance have been reported to depend on training status (16) and explosive strength of the lower limbs in male soccer players (6,12). The Yo-Yo IR1 performance observed in this sample of team handball players (1,831 ± 373 m) was higher (1,760 ± 59 m) than that observed at the beginning of the pre-season preparation period but lower than that found later in the competitive season (2,211 ± 70 m) in adult, male, professional soccer players (12). Higher Yo-Yo IR1 performances were also reported (6) in regional-level soccer players (2,138 ± 364 m). However, the mean Yo-Yo IR1 performance found in this study was higher than that reported for female top-level soccer players (1,379 m) and for state-level (840-1,049 m) and recreational level (1,010-1,048 m) Australian team sport athletes (21). Recently, Castagna et al. (7) reported in junior basketball players (age 17 years) a mean Yo-Yo IR1 performance of 1,678 ± 397 m. Lower Yo-Yo IR1 coverage was also reported by Atkins (1) in professional (1,656 ± 403 m) and semiprofessional (1,564 ± 415 m) English rugby league players. Unfortunately, to the best of this study author's knowledge, no information is available in the international scientific literature regarding Yo-Yo IR1 test performance in male team handball players (3). Besides competitive level and gender, differences in Yo-Yo IR1 performance are also consequence of the period of the competitive season when the test is performed (3). In this study, players were tested after the completion of a successful competitive season and as a consequence of that possessing a good training status as demonstrated by the good performance in the Yo-Yo IR1 performance (3).
A field test cannot be considered sport specific until a direct association between some aspects of match performance and the field test investigated has been determined (5,7,12). In line with this, we attempted to assess the specificity of the Yo-Yo IR1 test by examining the relationships between game activities in an experimental team handball tournament and Yo-Yo IR1 test performance. Because of this, it was imperative that the game intensity obtained in this study was specific to that encountered in actual competitive team handball game play (5,7,12). Although experimental teams were made grouping randomly chosen team handball players (see Methods) and observed during purpose-built tournaments (see Figure 1), they played against age-matched and competitive level team handball club teams in an attempt to simulate real-world competitions. Game physiological responses showed that this research design elicited game intensities, in terms of HR and [la]b responses, similar to those reported in adult professional team handball games (8). However, the total distance covered by this study's team handball players was significantly lower than that reported by Perš et al. (17) in adult professional team handball players (4,464-5,088 m). These marked differences are probably due to difference in match analysis systems used and game duration (17). In light of this study finding, it could be speculated that youth team handball games may elicit physiological stress similar to professional level competitions, differences being mainly in game activity (space coverage). However, no systematic study is currently available in the international literature, and consequently, evidence-based conclusive inferences are not possible with the current knowledge.
These results provide further support to the validity of the research design in this investigation. Consequently, the reported players' physical fitness (Yo-Yo IR1 performance) and experimental game-induced physiological strain support the relevance of this study finding to highly competitive youth team handball players and warrant this study results' generalization.
Game HR and [la]b values show that young team handball should be considered as a physiologically challenging exercise mode. Although further investigations are needed to examine the exact nature of team handball at youth level, this study findings support (7,8) the significant involvement of both the aerobic and anaerobic pathways during competitive team handball. The significant relationships between Yo-Yo IR1 and game physiological variables (see Results) show that fitness level significantly affects game strain in youth team handball. However, the variance of Yo-Yo IR1 performance explained only the 26% of [la]b variability (r2 = 0.26, p < 0.05). This may mean that team handball performance is affected by other variables than intermittent high-intensity endurance only (23).
It is concluded that the Yo-Yo IR1 test similar to that previously reported in adult male and female elite soccer and young basketball (7,11-13) may be considered as a predictive test also in youth team handball. This finding is of great practical interest for coaches and fitness training that deals with young team handball players. The Yo-Yo IR1 may be considered a field test relevant to young team handball and consequently used in training prescription and talent selection (15). Further studies are warranted to assess criterion validity and construct validity of Yo-Yo IR1 in team handball (22).
In light of this study findings, Yo-Yo IR1 may be considered as a valuable test for the assessment of the preparedness of young male team handball players to play competitive games. Given the originality of this study, Yo-Yo IR1 performances of or higher than 1,800 m may be considered as an evidence-based physical prerequisite to play team handball in adolescent male team handball players.
Youth male team handball should be considered as a demanding exercise mode and consequently physical fitness developed accordingly with the help of a professional strength and conditioning coach. In this regard, intermittent high-intensity endurance development must be carefully considered. As a consequence of this and other study results, the Yo-Yo IR1 may be with no doubt considered a useful tool for the evaluation of physical performance in intermittent sports (3).
No grant was provided for the implementation of this study.
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