Football (Thinking) Fitness

In the football fitness (capacity) post, the football fitness characteristics were defined. A “fit” player is a player that can execute his football ability (100%) more frequently and for longer.

The football fitness characteristics

Obviously, there are a number of supporting characteristics that contribute to a players ability to make more actions per minute, maintain good actions, and maintain many actions. This makes it considerably more difficult to ‘pinpoint’ where a player is hitting his football fitness limits. Is the player struggling to catch his breath between actions? Is it his ability to think next action? Some other component? Even this presents a false dichotomy. A players football fitness has many contributing factors including his physiology and psychology. In other words, there isn’t just one component, but many components that contribute to a players football fitness.

In the (maintain) think action post, a practical example concerning football sprints with minimum rest was described. In that example, it was proven that maintaining maximum actions is a byproduct of thinking action. If a player thinks about how tired he is, or thinks ‘I can’t get to the ball first’, he will slow down during his maximum actions and make a sub-maximum actions instead. As a result, the training adaptation is compromised.

Overloading Football Physiology only happens if football psychology (thinking) is not an obstacle

Similarly, a player that is still thinking last action has no chance to make his next action regardless of his breathing. Therefore, it is entirely possible for a player to have fully recovered between actions, but still be thinking about the last action. In the (maintain) think next action post, an example was given of a striker that makes a maximum action in behind. The striker is so fed up with the fact that he wasn’t given the ball that his thinking actions become his primary way of interacting with the football context. Rather than making football actions, he is thinking. Sometimes, these thoughts even become words, or gestures. He might start shouting at his teammates to ‘give me the ball!’ rather than focus on playing football. Obviously, if the player can shout at his teammates, he has no problem catching his breath. However, he is making less actions per minute due to his thinking.

What these examples prove is that the football psychology characteristics are of a higher order than the football physiology characteristics. It doesn’t mean that quicker recovery between actions is unimportant, it means that a player that is thinking about the referee cannot play at a high tempo. One comes before the other.

Of course, it was also explained in the (maintain) think action post that there is a limit to this idea. The football psychology characteristics are the first limiting factor that a player needs to overcome in order to stretch his physiological boundaries. But, once this is a given, and the player is able to think action and think next action, then his ability to catch his breath between actions can finally be overloaded. A player that is too busy yelling at his teammates during a 4v4 is not going to be overloaded in terms of more actions per minute. How can he? Instead of getting open and transitioning, he is shouting at his teammates.

A player that thinks next action will automatically stretch his quicker recovery boundaries. A player that thinks last action will never stretch his quicker recovery boundaries.

A player that thinks next action automatically overloads his recovery between actions. A player that thinks external factors, stays in his football fitness comfort zone.

Takeaway

Football fitness is the ability of a player to execute his football actions more often and for longer. The three football fitness characteristics are more actions per minute, maintain good actions, and maintain many actions. There are a number of components that influence these characteristics. There isn’t just one component that is the “be all, end all” for fitness. Many fitness coaches think fitness is predominately physiological. However, this is clearly not the case. A player that thinks external factors will never stretch the boundaries of his physiological limits. His thinking will keep him in his comfort zone so that he doesn’t have to push his boundaries.

As a result, the football psychology characteristics are the starting point during a football fitness training. The players need to think action, think next action, and maintain those for the duration of the session in order to have a chance of stretching their fitness boundaries. Of course, the psychology characteristics are only the starting point. Once it is a given that players are not thinking last action or thinking external factors, then close attention can be paid to the breathing of the players and the maximum of the actions to determine when the training session has stretched the boundaries sufficiently enough.

Football Psychology: (Maintain) Think Next Action

In the first Football Psychology post, the football psychology characteristics (maintain) think action were described.

Players have brains and these brains allow them to think, amongst other things. The thinking actions of a player can be a limiting factor in their performance. In other words, the weak link in a players football ability or football fitness (capacity) could be their thinking actions. These thinking actions can contribute towards or detract from the football performance.

Think Next Action

When thinking actions occur during the execution of an action, they can impact the quality of the football action. In other words, the quality of the action can go down. If this occurs early in the game, then we can say the player struggles to focus on football and think action. If the player demonstrates the ability to focus on football in the first half, but becomes increasingly interested in the external factors (like the referee) late in the game, then it can be said that this player struggles to maintain think action.

Of course, players don’t only make thinking actions during the football action, but also in-between actions. In other words, while players are recovering between actions and maybe catching their breath, they could also have thoughts.

Let’s say that a striker makes a maximum action in behind the opponents back line. He sprints as fast as possible and shouts for the ball. “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Play me!” The ball doesn’t arrive. The player throws his arms in the air and cannot believe his teammate didn’t give him the ball. The player is know thinking “Oh my God…I cannot believe he didn’t give me the ball.” While the player is having this thought, another opportunity has presented itself for him to get the ball. However, the striker is now offside. His teammate looks for the striker, but he is walking offside gesturing to the sky cursing his luck. As a result, his teammate loses the ball and the opponent makes a transition.

What just happened? The striker made an action. While recovering from that action, he thought about the last action. He couldn’t believe the ball didn’t arrive. As a result of this player thinking last action, he is unavailable to make an action seconds later. As a result, the frequency of this players actions has gone down. In other words, his thinking has led to less actions per minute.

Think Next Action? Or, Think Last Action?

We want players that perform more actions per minute. From a physiological perspective, this means catching their breath quicker between actions. This striker wasn’t out of breath. So, why did his frequency drop? His frequency dropped because the brain also plays a role in the football fitness of a player. A player that can make more actions per minute is not just a player that can make quick recoveries between actions. This player also must think next action. Rather than thinking about the last action, or other external factors while recovering, players that make more actions per minute also think about the next action. Therefore, the football psychology characteristic think next action is a critical component of the football fitness characteristic more actions per minute.

Players that make more actions per minute have a higher quality of thinking in-between actions. Rather than thinking about the last action or other external factors, they think next action.

Maintain Think Next Action

We want players that not only think next action in the first half, but for 90 minutes.

Picture the striker in the previous example. Imagine him making the same action to get in behind except this time the action occurs in the last minute. The player has the same low quality thinking in-between his actions, but this time it occurs in the final moments. The second opportunity for a pass presents itself, but the striker is once again in an offside position. This is forgivable in the first half, but this second opportunity is the last of the match. As a result of the lower tempo of his teammate, the player on the ball has to turn back and pass to his goalkeeper. Moments later, the referee blows the whistle to signal the end of the match. If the striker had been able to maintain think next action, then he could have gotten one more opportunity at goal.

Usually, the longer the match continues, the more likely it is that players (and coaches) struggle to think next action. It is easy to think next action when the game has just begun, but not after 80 minutes of situations. During a football match, there will be many situations like the one above. There will be mistakes, your team will concede goals, you will score goals, and there will be yellow cards, red cards, abuse from spectators, abuse from opponents, off the ball abuse, missed calls by the referee, etc. These situations accumulate in the brains of the players and it becomes a challenge to think next action. As a result, the playing tempo will go down. This is less than ideal if your team is chasing the game or hanging on to a lead. This is why the ability to maintain think next action is a critical component of the football fitness characteristic maintain many actions. Players that think external factors or last action in the later stages of a match will appear “less fit” even if they have no problem catching their breath. This is why physiology is only part of a players football fitness. It is only a piece of the puzzle. The actions of the brain, must also be considered.

Players that make maintain many actions per minute have a higher quality of thinking in-between actions. Especially in the later parts of the game. Rather than thinking about the last action or other external factors, they maintain think next action.

Takeaway

The brain is a critical component of a players football fitness. The ability to make more actions per minute and maintain many actions per minute is not only dependent on the physiological characteristics of the player, i.e. (maintain) quicker recovery between actions. It is also dependent on the thinking actions of the player. The football psychology characteristics think action and maintain think action refer to the thinking actions of a player during an action. The football psychology characteristics think next action and maintain think next action refer to the thinking actions of a player between actions. These characteristics are critical components of the football ability and football fitness (capacity) of a player.

Football Psychology: (Maintain) Think Action

In the football physiology posts on (maintain) maximum actions and (maintain) quicker recovery between actions, it was explained that the heart and lung only partly contribute to football fitness. As a result, (maintain) maximum actions and (maintain) quicker recovery between actions are only components of football fitness, they are not the same thing as football fitness. At best, they can contribute to a players football performance. The reason they can only partly explain a players football fitness is because there are other body parts that also play a role in the football ability and football capacity of a player. One particularly important body part is the brain.

Imagine a striker that is responsible for pressing the central defenders of the opponent.

The central defender receives the ball and the striker begins pressing him. The striker is making a maximum pressing action. As he gets closer to the central defender, the central defender easily passes the ball to his holding midfielder that is totally free. The striker recovers back behind the ball.

A few moments later, this same sequence repeats itself.

And again.

And again.

The fifth time the central defender receives the ball, the striker is fed up. Instead of making a maximum pressing action, he makes a sub-maximum pressing action.

By the eighth or ninth time, the striker stays in his position and doesn’t even bother pressing.

The coach begins shouting at his striker from the sidelines and cursing him towards the bench players. “Keep Pressing!” “How is he already tired!?”

The coach begins warming up a substitution while the assistant coach addresses the attacking midfielder. The assistant coach says, “You have to mark their holding midfielder tighter when our striker presses the ball.” He then encourages the striker to keep pressing.

The tenth time the central defender receives the ball, the striker makes a maximum pressing action. This time, the attacking midfielder player has taken away the opponents holding midfield player. As a result, the central defender makes a pass that is easily intercepted by the attacking midfielder. They then make a transition forward towards the goal.

For the remainder of the 1st half, the striker makes maximum pressing action after maximum pressing action.

The coach, still upset about the earlier pressing actions, continues to curse the striker, “He waits until I start warming someone up to keep pressing…”

What happened in this situation? Did the striker become less fit and then more fit moments later? Or, was something else going on?

The striker had no problem with his lungs. He had quickly recovered between each pressing action. The reason why he stopped pressing was due to another body part: his brain.

Every player has a brain. This brain allows them to think, amongst other actions. During a football game, these thinking actions will influence a players football actions. The striker didn’t all of a sudden grow a bigger heart or achieve greater lung capacity during his 10th pressing action, his thinking had changed.

During pressing action number five, the striker was thinking, “I’m not pressing anymore. Their midfielder is open every time.”

During pressing action number eight, the striker was thinking, “Not again. I’m just going to stay here and cover the midfielder.”

But, during pressing action number ten, the striker thought, “Thank God, our coach has fixed the problem. Now, I can press again.”

Obviously, this is a fictional story, but the point is that the thinking of a player can also play a role in their football ability and football capacity.

At the beginning of the match, the player was 100% focused on his football actions. Particularly, his pressing actions. As the game continued, he realized that his pressing was pointless. He wasn’t causing any miscommunications in the opponent or creating chances to win the ball or make interceptions. Therefore, the thinking of this player became his primary focus.

In the actions versus movements post, the difference between primary, secondary, and tertiary perspectives on motion were described. In addition, it was said that players are primarily focused on interacting with the football context. These are football actions like passing and pressing. Simultaneously, players also make actions that support their football actions, such as breathing, walking, and thinking.

Usually, these other actions stay in the background. However, there are many situations that occur in a match. Sometimes, these situations will cause certain actions to move to the foreground rather than the background.

For example, a player that is fouled and kicked hard in the shin will spend the next few minutes primarily focused on walking. He is no longer primarily focused on getting open or passing, but on his walking actions. He will be seen “hobbling” around the pitch as he regains his walking actions. If he cannot switch his focus back to football, he will eventually need to be substituted.

No longer focused on football, but on walking.

Another situation that can occur in football is a red card. During a red card situation, players may primarily focus on their thinking actions. Some players may think, “Oh no, now we are going to lose” or “are we fit enough to play man down for 83 minutes?”

These thinking actions can “take-over” and lead a player to only secondarily deal with the football context. In other words, his focus is no longer maximum football actions, but thinking. As a result, he makes sub-maximal football actions and the performance of the team and that player will drop.

Sometimes, game situations overload a players thinking and he no longer is focused on football, but on his thoughts.

In our example above, the ‘tactical’ situation led the striker to primarily concern himself with his thoughts. As a result, he made sub-maximal pressing actions. From the outside, it appeared as if the player couldn’t catch his breath, or was being “lazy”. Oddly, the moment he stopped thinking ‘what are my teammates doing?’ or ‘this isn’t working’ and instead, focused on his football actions; the player appeared to have miraculously recovered his ability and fitness. All of a sudden, he could ‘catch his breath’ and his ‘laziness’ had disappeared.

These examples demonstrate that shifts in a players thinking actions correspond with shifts in their football ability and football fitness.

Anyone that has coached or played football is all too familiar with situations where the team appears to fall into a ‘negative spiral’. For example, a team that gives up one goal, all of a sudden gives up two or three goals in succession. Conversely, a team that scores a goal, all of a sudden goes on to score two or even three. These moments demonstrate that the thinking actions players make can have a considerable impact on the quality and quantity of their actions.

A player that is ‘fed up’ with his task, like the striker above, will make a lower quantity of actions because he is thinking ‘this sucks’. A player that is thinking, “there are a lot of scouts at this game, I hope I play well” might make a lower quality of action because he is primarily thinking rather than playing.

Football Thinking

What these examples teach us is that the brain also plays a role in the football ability and football fitness (capacity) of a player. We are primarily concerned with the football fitness of players on this website. Therefore, let’s consider the brains role during a football fitness session.

Let’s say that we are doing football sprints with minimum rest. Football sprints are 1v1 situations in training where the players must sprint inside of the football context. This exercise is intended to overload a players ability to maintain maximum actions. This football physiology characteristics can contribute towards maintaining good actions.

During football sprints with minimum rest, players must sprint at a maximum. After about 10-30 seconds of recovery, the players must sprint again. During this exercise, the players will experience discomfort in their body. Their muscles will burn and they experience very heavy breathing. If the players begin paying more attention to their muscles and lungs rather than out-sprinting their opponent, the training effect will decrease. The players that focus on their lungs will sprint sub-maximally as the discomfort from the training overload is “too much” for them to handle. As a result, this player will not be training to maintain maximum actions, but training to maintain sub-maximum actions. Obviously, this is not the intended training effect.

Think fatigue or think win the ball

This example shows that the exercise only creates adaptations “in theory”. On paper, the players are improving their ability to maintain maximum actions. In practice, if their thinking and attention is primarily concerned with their tired muscles and burning lungs, there will be no training effect. In these situations, the limitation begins with the thinking of the player, not their phosphate system.

To create a training overload, the players need to focus on their task, not external factors like fatigue. In other words, the thinking of a player is a prerequisite for improving the football performance. During a match, players that think about external factors like the score, the referee, or the spectators will perform at lower levels of football ability and football capacity. During a training session, players that think about external factors like fatigue, heavy breathing, or discomfort will perform underloaded versions of the training session rather than overloaded versions.

Obviously, there is a limit to this concept. The thinking of a player is only a limitation to a point. For example, a person that runs 10 miles a day may need to overcome their thinking in order to overload themselves by running 11 miles. However, overcoming their thinking wouldn’t allow them to all of a sudden run 30 miles without severe consequences like muscle tears, or severe muscle breakdown.

Think Action

The brain plays a critical role in the football ability and football capacity of a player. In the post on football ability, a players ability to perform the CDE cycle contributes to the football performance through better actions. When discussing the football ability of a player, we are discussing the action itself.

During the execution of the strikers pressing action from earlier, what was the player focused on? Was he thinking about pressing? Or, while he was pressing was he also thinking about external factors. Did he have a thought like, ‘this is a waste of time, they’re just going to pass around me.’ If the player is thinking about external factors, the quality of their action will go down.

At a higher level of play, the quality of an action needs to go up. As a result, players need to learn to think action not think external factor. This is the first football psychology characteristic.

The football psychology characteristic think action

Maintain Think Action

We don’t want players that only think action in the first half, but for 90 minutes. In fact, many games are lost in the last moments of the match. Players that think “the game is over” can make lower quality actions at critical moments of the match like during late game set piece situations. In the football world, many coaches refer to this as “switching off”. What this basically means is that players are no longer thinking action. Instead, they are thinking external factor.

In our earlier example, the striker was thinking action during his initial pressing actions. As a result, his pressing actions were maximal. As the game continued; however, the player began to make sub-maximal pressing actions. Instead of thinking action, he was thinking external factor. During the execution of his pressing actions, the striker was concerned with the actions of his teammates, how open the holding midfielder was, and how his coach was yelling at him for something that had nothing to do with him. The player could not maintain think action.

Obviously, the quality of his initial pressing actions demonstrates that the player has the ability to think action. But, the lower quality of his following pressing actions demonstrated that the player cannot maintain think action – another football psychology characteristic.

The football psychology characteristic maintain think action

Takeaway

The brain plays a crucial role in the football ability and football capacity of a player. The player can either think action or think external factor. If the player thinks external factor, the quality of his football actions will go down. If the player thinks action, the quality of his actions can remain at 100%. Therefore, the football psychology of a player also contributes to the football performance. The football psychology characteristic think action can contribute to the football ability of a player by contributing towards better actions.

Players that only think action in the first half or when things are going well are not in control of their thinking. Therefore, players need to learn to maintain their ability to think action. The football psychology characteristic maintain think action can contribute to the football fitness of a player and his ability to maintain good actions.

Football Physiology: (Maintain) Quicker Recovery Between Actions

FOOTBALL PHYSIOLOGY

In the football principles postwe explained that football principles should be used to study scientific principles and not the reverse. Based on the football ability and football fitness characteristics, we can ask the scientific discipline of physiology if any scientific principles can contribute towards better actions, more actions, maintain good actions, and maintain many actions.

In Football Physiology Part 1, we discovered two physiology principles that can contribute to the football performance. At a higher level of play, there is an increased demand on the speed of action. Players occasionally need to execute actions at an absolute maximum. Cristiano Ronaldo has a very high maximum action. By comparison, a player like Sergio Busquets has a lower maximum action. If Cristiano Ronaldo makes an action in behind and Sergio Busquets has to track him, there is a very good chance that Cristiano Ronaldo will get to the ball first. However, we all know that Sergio Busquets is a top level football player. As mentioned in part 1, there is a difference between a players overall football ability and his maximum action. A maximum action only refers to the speed characteristic of an action, not the communication between players, or the position, moment, and direction of the action. In other words, a maximum action is only a small contributor to the overall quality of an action. Just ask Usain Bolt.

The football physiology characteristics Maximum Action and Maintain Maximum Actions can contribute to the speed component of better actions and maintaining good actions.

Nevertheless, we learned in Part 1 that there are, in fact, some physiology principles that can help players make better actionsmore actions, maintain good actions, and maintain many actions. In part 1, we learned that players that have higher maximum actions and can maintain their maximum actions for longer can also make slightly better actions and maintain good actions.

In the football fitness (capacity) post, we learned that there are three football fitness characteristics. Football fitness is a players ability to make football actions at 100% more frequently (higher tempo) and for longer. Players that can play at a high tempo and maintain that tempo for 90 minutes are very football fit. Next, we can ask if there is any scientific knowledge that can contribute to a players ability to play at a high tempo and maintain that tempo for 90 minutes.

Recovery Ability

The first football fitness characteristic is that at a higher level of play, players need to make more actions per minute. In other words, players need a higher quantity of actions. A higher quantity of actions means that players have less time to recover from their previous action. As a result, players have less time to ‘catch their breath’ between actions. In order to make actions at a higher frequency, players need to catch their breath more quickly between actions. 

Players that can make more actions per minute will raise the tempo of the match. A match that is played at a higher tempo means that players have less time to recover between football actions. Less time to recover means less time to ‘catch their breath’. A player that can ‘catch his breath more quickly’ will have less of a limitation on his ability to make more actions per minute.  In the science of training, a players ability to recover between actions is called recovery ability.

Players that want to raise the level of their recovery ability need to train themselves to catch their breath more quickly between actions. In order to have the chance to make more actions per minute, players need to learn to catch their breath more quickly. Therefore, the football physiology characteristic quicker recovery between actions can contribute to a players ability to make more actions per minute.

The ability to quickly recover between actions can contribute to the football fitness characteristic more actions per minute

Recovery Capacity

Of course, we don’t want players that can only play at a high tempo in the first half. We want players that can play at a high tempo for 90 minutes. One of the football fitness characteristics is maintaining many actions per minute. This means that players with a high level of football fitness can play football at a high tempo for 90 minutes. In Physiology language, playing at a high tempo in the last stages of a match means maintaining the ability to ‘catch your breath quickly’. This is called recovery capacity. A player that is limited by his recovery capacity will be unable to maintain many actions per minute. 

Players that want to raise the level of their recovery capacity need to train themselves to catch their breath quickly between actions for longer. Players need to learn to maintain their ability to recover between actions. The football physiology characteristic that can contribute to maintaining many actions is maintaining quicker recovery between actions.

The ability to maintain quick recovery between actions can contribute to the football fitness characteristic maintain many actions per minute

The Football Physiology Characteristics

Improving a football players performance means improving his football ability and football capacity. Improving a players football ability means helping the player make better actions. In other words, it is helping the player start each game with a slightly better 100%. Improving a players football capacity means improving his football fitness. A players football fitness is his ability to make more actions at 100% per minute, maintain 100% actions for longer, and maintain many actions at 100% for longer.

Football Physiology is not the same thing as football fitness. Physiology is only part of a players football fitness. At best, improving a players physiology can only contribute towards the football performance characteristics, it cannot guarantee their improvement. In this two part series (Part 1 here), the four football physiology characteristics were defined. A players maximum action can contribute to better actions by improving the speed of action. A player that can maintain maximum actions for longer can contribute to maintaining good actions by learning to maintain the speed of his actions. A player that can recover more quickly between actions has a higher chance of making more actions per minute. A player that can maintain his ability to recover quickly between actions has a higher chance of maintaining many actions per minute throughout the match. Together, these football physiology characteristics can contribute to the overall football performance.

The football physiology characteristics

Why Football Physiology and Not Football Fitness??

In the football performance post on football fitness (capacity), football fitness was defined as how frequently and for how long players can make football actions at 100%. This is different from a players football ability. The football ability of a player says something about how well they can perform the CDE cycle (communication, decision making, executing decisions). The football fitness (capacity) of a player says something about how frequently, how close to 100%, and for how long someone can play football. It doesn’t determine the quality of communication, decision making, or execution. Nevertheless, the football ability and football capacity (fitness) of a player determine his overall football performance.

This two part series on the football physiology characteristics has stressed that the physiology components are only part of the definition of football fitness. Why is this the case? The reason why improvements in football physiology are only part of a players football fitness is because there is more to physiology than the heart and lungs. The brain, and even the muscles, are also part of a players physiology. In upcoming posts, the role of the brain in football fitness will be described. The brain is also part of a players physiology which is why quicker recovery between actions is only part of the definition of football fitness. It is not the same thing as football fitness. At best, improving a players ability to catch his breath between actions can only contribute towards more actions per minute, but it cannot guarantee it. As a result, football fitness is more than the contribution of the heart and lungs inside a football context. The role of the brain is also important.

Football Fitness (Capacity)

What is the difference between a lower level and a higher level? When a player moves from the Under 19’s to the 1st team, do they suddenly play with two balls? Is the offside rule no longer valid? Does the team stop defending?Is the pitch now in the shape of a circle? Are their 4 goals instead of 2?

In the football ability post, we answered these questions with an emphatic “No”. The difference between a lower level and a higher level is not found in “WHAT” is played, but in “HOW” it’s played. All across the world, the same game is played.

In football ability, we took the universal game characteristics as the starting point in our endeavor to precisely define the football performance. In other words, what does it mean to play football better than someone else? What separates Lionel Messi from Jamie Vardy? Virgil Van Dijk from Arsenal’s Sokratis? The answer is football ability. Football ability is a concept that describes the quality with which a player executes the CDE cycle. A players football ability determines how his 100% CDE compares to another players 100% CDE.

In and of itself, football ability is insufficient to explain the entire football performance. For starters, the CDE cycle isn’t performed just once in the whole game. Players need to make multiple actions throughout the entire 90 minutes. In the end, a player with high football ability won’t be very good if he only makes one action per game. The characteristics of football mean that football players need to make multiple actions during a match. In other words, in addition to making actions with a certain quality, players will also make a certain quantity of actions. Every player performs their quantity of actions with a certain frequency. In football language, this is what we call match tempo.

At a higher level of play, not only will football ability be higher, but match tempo will also be higher. However, even with the introduction of match tempo, our definition of the football performance is still incomplete. For starters, playing with a high match tempo for just 20 minutes is not enough to make you a good player, or a good team. Players, and teams, also need to maintain this tempo for the whole match – 90 minutes.

As you can tell, there are a number of characteristics that players need to develop in order to become top players. Primarily, players need to develop their football ability. However, in order to support their football ability for 90 minutes, players need to develop other abilities as well. These will be discussed now.

Football Capacity

In the science of training, how well someone can do something is called ability. How much and for how long they can do something is called capacity. In football, how well someone can perform the CDE cycle is called football ability. How frequently they can perform the CDE cycle and for how long they can maintain this frequency, and their ability, is called football capacity. In football language, these latter characteristics are what we refer to as football fitness.

The football fitness of a player is an integral part of their football performance. Even top players, with a high football ability, will perform poorly if they lack football fitness. If you have ever watched a world renowned player during the pre-season, then you know exactly what I am talking about. Even the best players can’t get away with low football fitness. Football ability sets the bar. But, football fitness is what keeps the bar high.

As an analogy, consider Tiger Woods. Tiger Woods golf ability is very high. He can drive a ball nearly 300 yards. While doing this on the 1st hole demonstrates where the bar is – his 100%. It is his ability to do this throughout 18 holes and over the course of 4-days that truly makes him great. In other words, his “100%” is not sufficient. He also needs the ability to maintain his 100% for as long as possible.

Football players need both. They need a high football ability, but also a high football capacity. Lionel Messi’s ability to dribble past defenders means nothing if he can only do it once. Conversely, being able to make passing actions throughout the entire game means nothing if you always pass to the other team.

In a nutshell, players need to develop their football ability. This means that they continually try and “raise the bar”. They want to push their 100% CDE to 101% CDE. They want to begin each match with a newly improved 100% – a higher bar.

Players also need to develop their football capacity. This means that they continually try and “keep the bar high”. They want to make actions at their 100% as frequently as possible and for as long as possible. This means that even in the final moments of the match, players are still making actions at, or as close to, 100% as possible.

High Football Ability, but Low Football Fitness
High Football Fitness, but Low Football Ability
High Football Ability AND High Football Fitness

To develop their football capacity, players need to develop their ability to make more actions per minute, maintain good actions, and maintain many actions per minute. These are what we call the football fitness (capacity) characteristics.

More Actions per Minute

The first football fitness (capacity) characteristic is more actions per minute. Football actions are not only made with a certain quality, but also a certain quantity. At a higher level of play, football is played with a higher quantity of actions. A higher quantity of actions means that the match tempo goes up. When the match tempo goes up, players have less time between each action. When players have less time between each action, they need to make more actions per minute.

The tempo that Ajax needs to build up with is significantly higher during the Champions League than it is during the Eredivisie. In order to create gaps in the defensive organization of a team like Real Madrid, the Ajax players need to pass at a higher tempo. If the Ajax players only make five passing actions per build up attempt, it is unlikely that they will build up successfully and create chances. The tempo of play (five passing actions per build up attempt) doesn’t place a significant enough demand on the defending actions of the Real Madrid players. The Real Madrid players can easily keep compact, block passing options, and make pressing actions. As a result, we can say that Ajax is attacking at a lower level than Real Madrid is defending.

In order to increase their playing level, the Ajax players need to make attacking actions with a higher frequency. More specifically, this means passing, getting open, and creating space more often. In other words, making more actions per minute – an integral component of a players Football Fitness.

The football fitness characteristic – more actions per minute

Maintain Good Actions

In football ability, we explained that the quality of a football action depends on the quality of the CDE cycle. Football ability refers to how ‘good’ a players actions are. However, players don’t just express this quality one time, but many times throughout the course of the game. Because of this, there is an increased demand on a players ability to maintain their football ability.

Imagine if this were true for a 100 meter sprinter. Every sprinter has a certain sprinting ability. However, they only have to express this ability once. One can imagine how the results of the Olympic 100 meter would differ if they had to express this ability multiple times. Imagine if instead of winning one race, sprinters had to win the best of 20 races. Sprinters would no doubt need to develop more than just their sprinting ability. They would also need to develop their ability to maintain their sprinting ability.

Football players don’t need a high football ability for the first 20 minutes, or the first half, but for the entire 90 minutes. Football ability needs to be maintained for 90 minutes. 

As the game continues, players will eventually struggle to maintain their football ability. In other words, their 100% goes down. For example, towards the middle of the 2nd half, players will begin to make actions at only 90%. A little bit later, the quality might drop to 80%. In the final 10 minutes, maybe only 70% is possible. To make this more concrete, let’s say that 100% represents completing 10/10 passing actions, but 70% represents only 7/10.

This isn’t ideal. We want players to maintain 100% passing accuracy for as long as possible. Therefore, we need to develop their ability to maintain football ability. This requires two things.

First, players need to delay the drop in football ability for as long as possible. Second, players want to limit the drop in football ability as much as possible.

Let’s say that a player’s passing ability begins dropping in the 60th minute. To improve his ability to maintain football ability, this player will want to delay this drop for as long as possible. This means that training should target this players ability to maintain his passing ability for 65 minutes, then 70 minutes, and eventually as close to 90 minutes as possible. Practically, this means demanding quality football actions under fatigue.

Let’s say that this same player’s passing ability not only drops, but drops from 100% to 60%. In other words, not only have the quality of his actions gone down, but they have gone down considerably. Because of this, the player has become a liability and needs to be substituted. To improve his ability to maintain football ability, this player will want to delay this drop as much as possible. This means that training should target this players ability to maintain his passing ability as close to 100% as possible. Practically, this means demanding top quality football actions under fatigue.

In order for a player to maintain football ability for as long as possible and as much as possible, they need to learn how to maintain good actions – another integral part of a players football fitness.

The football fitness characteristic – maintain good actions

Maintain Many Actions

Lastly, we want players who can not only maintain the quality of their actions, but also the quantity of their actions. A fit player can manage a high playing tempo not only during the 1st half, but for 90 minutes. In order to play football at a high tempo late in a match, players need the ability to maintain many actions per minute – the final football fitness characteristic. Practically, this means placing a training demand on your players that forces them to play at a high tempo while fatigued.

In a sense, learning to maintain good actions and maintain many actions are specifications of playing football for longer. Training sessions aimed at improving these football fitness qualities will necessitate a higher volume of training and a higher training duration.

The football fitness characteristic – maintain many actions per minute

Takeaway

How do I get better at playing football? Traditionally, if you ask this question to 10 different people you will get 10 different answers. Alternatively, by taking the universal game characteristics as the starting point, we have been able to answer this question more precisely. There are two main characteristics that separate one player from another: football ability and football capacity, also known as fitness.

In football ability, we explained that the level of play is partly explained by the quality of the football actions.

In this post, we have explained that the level of play is also explained by the quantity of actions, and the ability of players to maintain both the quality and quantity of actions for 90 minutes.

Together, these characteristics explain the football performance.

Football fitness has three sub-characteristics that must be equally developed. 1) At a higher level of play, players need to play football at a higher tempo. In other words, they need to make more football actions per minute. 2) At a higher level, players also need to maintain their football ability for as long as possible. Of course, even the best players in the world will have a drop in quality in the final moments of the match. Nevertheless, players need to develop their ability to maintain good actions. At a higher level, players want to play football as well as possible and for as long as possible. 3) Players need to maintain a high tempo until the final whistle. When defending a 1-0 lead, the defending team will need to maintain their playing tempo for 90 minutes in order to continue disturbing the build up of the opponent and take home 3 points. To do this, they need to maintain many actions per minute.

Improving football ability is not the same thing as improving football fitness. Improving football ability means helping a player perform the CDE cycle at a higher level. It means stretching the boundaries of their communication, decision making, and execution from 100% to 101%. Conversely, improving football fitness means helping a player perform his CDE cycle at 100% as frequently as possible and for as long as possible. Getting ‘fitter’ does not necessarily make you a better player, it helps you express your quality more frequently and for longer. Getting ‘better’ means developing your quality. Getting ‘fitter’ means expressing your quality. Both are necessary for performing at a high level.

Football Ability “sets the bar”. Football Capacity (fitness) “keeps it high” for 90 minutes.

Football Physiology: (Maintain) Maximum Action

In the football performance posts (ability / capacity) the four football performance characteristics were defined. The football ability of a player determines the level at which he can play football. In order to raise the level of play to an even higher level, the quality of the action must go up. This means that the player needs to make better actions.

Football performance isn’t just determined by the quality of the actions, but also by the quantity of the actions. The level of play is also determined by the tempo of the match. At a higher level, players don’t only make better actions, but more actions. Of course, a description of the football performance is not complete until we also discuss for how long players can maintain both the quality and quantity of their actions. At a higher level, players can make football actions at 100% for 90 minutes and play at a high tempo for 90 minutes. The tempo of football and for how long football can be played determine a players football capacity. In football language, this is what we call football fitness.

Football Ability and Football Fitness determine the overall football performance

En route to trying to increase their football ability and football fitness, players will experience certain limitations. The job of a coach is to determine where these limitations exist and raise them to a higher level. The two types of limitations that exist in football were described in the ‘football conditioning’ post. 

Football conditioning is the overall process of raising football to a higher level. A coach can either condition the football ability or the football fitness of their players to a higher level.

Conditioning the football ability of a player means raising the level of the CDE cycle from 100% to 101%. This can be accomplished through “sub-conditioning” processes such as football tactics conditioning, football game insight conditioning, and football technique conditioning.

Football (Action)Ability Conditioning: Making better actions

Conditioning the football fitness of a player means placing higher demands on the tempo at which they play football and playing football for longer. In other words, football fitness is playing football at a high tempo and for longer.

Football Fitness Conditioning: Making more actions, maintaining good actions, and maintaining many actions

Football Physiology

In the football principles post, we explained that football principles should be used to study scientific principles and not the reverse. Based on the football ability and football fitness characteristics, we can ask the scientific discipline of physiology if their scientific principles apply to making better actions, more actions, maintaining good actions, and maintaining many actions.

There are, in fact, some physiology principles that can help players make better actions, more actions, maintain good actions, and maintain many actions. These principles are a component of the football performance characteristics.

Explosive Ability

At a higher level of play, players need to make better actions. Players need to communicate with their teammates sooner, make decisions faster, and execute more precisely. They need a greater football ability.

At a higher level, there is also less space and less time to make football actions. Not only do they need to communicate sooner, make decisions quicker, and execute more precisely, players also need to execute with a higher speed. Players need to a higher speed of action. In physiology language, players need to execute their actions more explosively. 

Creating a passing option more explosively means creating separation from your opponent in less time. At a lower level, players might have one second to create separation. In that one second, they create five yards of space for themselves to receive the ball. At a higher level, players might only have half-a-second to create the same separation. In that half-a-second, they need to create the same five yards for themselves to receive. This is only possible if the action is executed more explosively. 

In the ‘what is a football action?’ post, the three components of a football action were described. A better action is the result of better communication between players. It is also the result of better decision making and better executing decisions of an individual player.  Coaching at team level means coaching the communication between players. Coaching at individual level means coaching the decision making and executing decisions of a player. Together, coaching at team level and individual level increases the football ability of a player. As a result, the player makes better actions.

Coaching at individual level means improving the position, moment, direction, and speed of the action. Executing an action with a maximum speed can help the player learn to make a more explosive action. In the science of training, this is termed explosive ability. 

The explosiveness (speed) of a football action is only a part of the football action. This means that improving the explosive ability of a player does not automatically translate to a better action. A player that can get in behind with a higher speed might only run offside more quickly. This doesn’t mean that a player’s explosive ability is unimportant, but rather that it is insufficient. Playing football better is about much more than being more explosive. Improving the speed of an action cannot be viewed independently from the other three space-time characteristics: position, moment, and direction. Therefore, improving the explosiveness of an action can contribute to a higher quality action, but it does not guarantee a better action.

A higher speed of action does not mean the entire action has improved. The position, moment, and direction must also improve.

Absolute Speed vs Relative Speed

In football, the speed of an action is relative. In Downhill Skiing, the speed of an action is absolute. In skiing, the position, moment, and direction are standardized. Everyone begins from the same position (top of the hill), at the same moment (starting signal), and in the same direction (the course). Speed is the only variable. Obviously, the snow and the mountain need to be dealt with, but more or less, getting down the hill faster than everyone else is the primary concern.

Imagine if the position, moment, and direction were variables? Imagine if Olympic Champion Marcel Hirscher could pick where he wanted to start on the mountain (position)? Imagine if he got to choose when he started the race (moment)? And, imagine instead of having to slalom down the hill, he could go in a straight line (direction)? How much different would skiing be if every skier could manipulate their position, moment, and direction?

In football, this is exactly what happens. Players get to choose where they begin their actions from, at which moments, and in which directions. As a result, speed is only relative, not absolute. Having the fastest absolute speed is less relevant in football. If you have a higher absolute speed than your opponent, but he positions himself outside your vision and begins his action before you, you will fail to mark him tightly enough regardless of how fast you are.

In fact, for youth players especially, learning to position yourself better, act sooner, and act in the correct direction is much more important than maximizing your speed of action. Being 1% faster matters very little when you are positioning yourself in front of your opponent, acting too late, and acting in a straight line when asking for the ball.

Of course, there is a limit to this idea. There are situations in football where speed is a decisive factor. This is particularly true at the highest levels of football. At the highest levels, there is a smaller difference in football ability between players. The communication, decision making, and execution of each player is at a very high level. As a result, improving a players maximum speed of action could add the extra 1% to his game that makes a difference. As a result, explosive ability is important after all.

Maximum Action

In the science of training, explosiveness is also called power. Power is the combination of speed and force. In order to make a football action with a higher speed, the force of the action must be delivered in less time. In order to do this, players need to execute football actions at their maximum. 

Players that want to raise the level of their explosive ability need to train themselves to execute football actions with a higher speed. At a higher level of play, there is an increased demand on the ability of players to execute their actions at an explosive maximum. Therefore, the scientific discipline of physiology can contribute to a better action after all. By improving the explosive ability of a player, he will be capable of a higher speed of action. In football language, this means that the player has a higher maximum action.

At a higher level of play, players need to make actions with a higher maximum speed

A greater maximum action does not automatically mean a better action. Therefore, a maximum action and a better action are not the same thing. As a result, a maximum action is not a football performance characteristic, but a football physiology characteristics. The maximum speed of an action is only a small part of a players football ability. Nevertheless, improving the football physiology characteristic – maximum action – can contribute to a better action.

The football physiology characteristic Maximum Action can contribute to a better action. But, a better action is much more than the speed of the action.

Explosive Capacity

Players don’t need to make maximum actions only in the 1st half, but also in the 2nd half. During the game, the maximum action of a player will decline. In other words, they will begin to make sub-maximum actions. Actions with less explosiveness. In the science of training, the ability of a player to make explosive actions for longer is explosive capacity. In order for players to maintain their maximum for longer, their explosive capacity needs to go up.

Like explosive ability, the explosive capacity of a player refers only to the speed component of an action. This is why the football fitness characteristic is maintain good action. A player can struggle to maintain the quality of his actions because he is communicating less with his teammates, or executing his actions from the wrong position, at the wrong moment, in the wrong direction, and at an incorrect speed for the situation.

In fact, it is entirely possible for a player to make low-quality football actions in the final 15 minutes of a match, but still demonstrate a good explosive capacity. The lower quality of their actions can be explained by other factors. Even if the speed of the action is maximal, if a player explodes in behind the defense at the wrong moment, he will be offside. Even in the last moments of the match, the football context is not beside the point. It is the point. That is why the football fitness characteristic is maintain good action and not maintain maximum action. Football fitness is about maintaining the football ability, not a small part of the football ability – in this case, speed.

Of course, this has its limits too. A player that chooses the correct position, correct moment, and correct direction for his action could still fail to execute his action with a maximal speed. For example, a player that is sprinting on to a pass in behind that puts him 1 on 1 with the goalkeeper could lack the explosiveness he had in the first half, which means that the goalkeeper gets to the ball first. Therefore, explosive capacity is important after all. 

A player that wants to raise his explosive capacity needs to learn to execute football actions with a maximal speed in the final moments of a match. At a higher level of play, there is an increased demand on the ability of a player to execute his action at the explosive maximum, especially in the second half. Therefore, being able to make a maximum action in the 2nd half can contribute to the quality of an action in the second half. As a result, physiology can contribute to maintaining good actions after all. The world of physiology tells us that players can contribute to their ability to maintain good actions by improving their ability to maintain maximum actions – a football physiology characteristic. 

The football physiology characteristic Maintain Maximum Action can contribute to the football fitness characteristic maintain good actions. But, the quality of an action in the 2nd half is about much more than the speed of the action.