An investigation into potential methods of improving the fitness stimulus associated with small-sided games in soccer.
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Background: Methods that simultaneously target physical, technical and tactical components of soccer could be an efficient use of training time. Small-sided games (SSGs) have previously been investigated demonstrating that variables, such as player numbers and pitch dimensions, can significantly influence the physical response (Aguiar et al. 2012). Inconsistent study designs limit precise conclusions about the influences separate variables have on game intensity, with authors only speculating that game intensity can be controlled through different methods or variable manipulation (Hill-Haas et al. 2011). A lack of evidence in the literature examining if the training load exerted from SSGs can be regulated warrants for research expansion in this area. Objectives: The present investigation is designed to test the hypothesis that the physical response from SSGs can be regulated based on real time objective heart rate (HR) data without being detrimental to the frequency of technical actions. Design: Cross sectional, repeated measures design. Method: Fourteen male semi-professional soccer players were recruited from a Scottish Junior North Super League club. Players were randomly separated into two teams of six, with a reserve pool of four. The same teams were played whenever possible. Every player performed a Yo-Yo Intermittent level 2 test. Eight testing sessions were performed thereafter consisting of 3 x 6 vs. 6 SSGs. Four conditions were each tested twice; baseline (BL), after game sprint (AGS), in game sprint (IGS) and self monitoring (SM). Results: Each intervention prescribed, resulted in a significant increase in HR and rate of perceived exertion (RPE) compared to BL, yet no significant differences were established between interventions. Percentage of maximum HR = BL (86.6 ± 4.6%), IGS (89.6 ±3.2), SM (89.91 ± 3.7) and AGS (90.1 ± 3.3). The AGS intervention recorded a significantly greater mean value for time spent in HR zone 90-100% compared to BL. RPE values across all games was significantly lower in BL displaying the lowest recorded mean (6.2 ± 0.68) followed by AGS (6.73 ± 0.45), IGS (6.73 ± 0.69) and SM (6.90 ± 0.50). Percentage of forward passes for IGS recorded the only notable difference between technical actions, resulting in 11.8% more passes towards the opponents’ goal in comparison to BL. Conclusion: The present study has investigated innovative methods that present clear evidence to strongly suggest that the interventions could be beneficial to improve soccer performance. Each intervention may also produce specific intensities due to multiple direct and indirect mechanisms, which may further influence game dynamics and increase the complexity of the training response. All interventions used in the current study require further testing to more clearly assess whether they should routinely be used.