Basic ability is what most coaches are referring to when they use a term like “athleticism”. Basic ability means that someone can sprint, stop, jump, and land at a high level. Importantly, this doesn’t mean they play football at a high level. Basic ability can contribute towards football ability, but they are not the same thing because the context is different. Someone with a high level basic ability makes high quality actions in a basic context. Someone with a high level football ability makes high quality actions in a football context.
Of course, basic actions are still part of football actions, but this only means that basic ability can contribute to football ability – it doesn’t define it. Nevertheless, basic ability is still important to the training process.
The ultimate goal of football training is to improve the football ability and football capacity of a player. However, this cannot always be accomplished via the direct route. Sometimes the “weak link” in a player’s game exists outside the football context. Other times, a player becomes injured and is unable to perform actions inside the football context. However, it is still possible to contribute towards a players football ability and football capacity via the indirect route. We can contribute towards a better football ability indirectly through a better basic ability.
Basic Capacity (Fitness)
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 perform it is called football capacity (fitness).
Every football player will make basic actions with a certain quality. This is called basic ability. And obviously, players will also have an ability to make basic actions at a certain frequency and for a certain amount of time. This is called basic capacity (fitness).
When a player is reconditioning from an injury, the medical staff doesn’t only focus on a players basic ability, but also his basic fitness. A player must not only regain his ability to sprint, change direction, and side-step at top quality, but also his ability to sprint, change direction, and side-step at a certain frequency and for longer. Regaining basic fitness is a crucial first step towards regaining football fitness.
Football fitness is a players ability to play football at a high tempo (quantity of actions), and to play football for longer by both maintaining the quality of his actions and maintaining the quantity of his actions. The football fitness characteristics are described in detail in the football capacity post and summarized in the graphic below.
The only difference between the football fitness characteristics above and the basic fitness characteristics is the context. Football fitness can only be improved by learning to interact with the football context more frequently and for longer. Basic fitness can be improved by interacting with a basic context more frequently and for longer. Basic context is another term for a non-specific, or general, context.
The basic fitness characteristics are the football fitness characteristics without the football context. As a result, the first basic fitness characteristic is more actions per minute. Practically, this means that players make basic actions in a non-football context at a relatively high frequency. The second basic fitness characteristic is maintain good actions. Practically, this means that players will need to execute basic actions with top quality over a longer period of time. This is usually done by adding more blocks to the training exercise. This overloads a players ability to maintain basic ability. The third basic fitness characteristic is maintain many actions per minute. Practically, this means that players make basic actions at a high frequency over a longer period of time. Once again, this is usually done by adding more blocks to the training exercise. The basic fitness characteristics are more (basic) actions per minute, maintain good (basic) actions, and maintain many (basic) actions per minute.
When to develop Basic Fitness?
In basic ability, we explained that sometimes the weak link in a players football ability is his basic ability. For example, the “weak link” in a pressing action can be the sprinting action. Does this also apply to fitness? Can the “weak link” in a players football fitness be his basic fitness?
When a players match tempo drops and there is more time between actions, the player is described as fatiguing. You could also say that this player lacks football fitness. He has a low ability to maintain many actions per minute. However, this same conclusion does not automatically apply to his basic fitness. If it did, then we would effectively be saying that the context in which a player fatigues is unimportant. But, the context is not beside the point. It IS the point.
There is a big difference between maintaining pressing actions in the last 15 minutes of a match, and maintaining running actions during an interval workout. Maintaining pressing means the player has to maintain his communication with his teammates and maintain the quality of his game insight. He needs to continue making correct decisions about when to press, which player to press, in which direction to press, and at which speed to press. These two components are a big reason why the player gets so tired.
On the other hand, maintaining running only requires focusing on one thing – running. There is no situation to deal with or decisions to make. It is only execution. In other words, basic fitness doesn’t overload a players ability to maintain communication nor top quality game insight while fatigued. It only overloads a players ability to maintain executing basic actions.
As a result, football fitness is not a players basic fitness expressed in the football context. A players football fitness something wholly different. Here is a question to consider. If something has three components (communication, decision, execution) and you remove two of those components (communication and decision) is that something still that something? Or, is it something else?
Basic fitness is part of football fitness. But, football fitness is more than just a players basic fitness.
With that said, there is no doubting that a players general fitness can play a limiting role on performance. This is especially the case when a player is reconditioning from an injury. For example, many players will get to the reconditioning stage where they are participating in the football context, but are still doing most of their training in the basic context. The player is still limited in his ability to maintain many football actions. As a result, the reconditioning coaches simplify the context so that the player can develop his ability to maintain actions. Developing basic fitness can serve as a bridge to developing football fitness.
Reconditioning is just one example of developing basic fitness rather than football fitness. Developing basic fitness can also be used in conjunction with developing football fitness.
Take the following as an example. Imagine you have a player that continually needs to be subbed out in the 60th minute. When the 60th minute arrives, the player drops his tempo (maintain many actions) and his quality (maintain good actions). However, let’s say that the football conditioning session you have planned this week is 5v5 games. Due to the low number of players, players in the 5v5 will need to make more actions per minute. However, this isn’t your strikers “weak point”. He struggles to maintain many actions per minute. What can you do?
In order to maintain the football context as long as possible, you could add more blocks of 5v5. This way, by the 6th or 7th block, your striker will begin struggling to maintain his tempo. However, because of the design of the exercise (5v5) he will have no choice but to play at a high tempo. However, maybe the rest of the team isn’t ready for more blocks. Maybe the extra blocks will lead to an over-overload. One solution is that you could add the extra blocks with the substitute players. These players haven’t been getting a lot of exposure to 11v11 (maintain many actions), so this could be a good way to develop their ability to maintain many actions as well.
Let’s say that the substitute players aren’t available. They have a reserve game tonight and aren’t available at training. This is where basic fitness could be used in conjunction with developing football fitness. For example, you could put the striker through an interval training exercise prior to the start of the session, or while the rest of the team is doing a passing warm up. This way, the player begins the 5v5 games already fatigued. Right from the start, he will feel like he is in the 60th minute. However, the session has just begun. As a result, the player will need to play at a high tempo. This can improve his ability to maintain many actions late in the match. So, basic fitness training can be an integral part of football fitness training.
Basic actions are part of the execution of football actions. In addition to a football ability and football capacity, players will also have a basic ability and basic capacity. This latter characteristic is what we call basic fitness. Fitness inside a basic, or general, context.
Since basic actions are part of football actions, the only difference between football fitness and basic fitness is the context. Basic fitness is fitness expressed in a non-football context. In other words, there are no opponents, teammates, goals, etc. Nevertheless, the basic fitness characteristics and football fitness characteristics are identical save the difference in context. Basic fitness is developed by making more (basic) actions per minute, maintaining good (basic) actions, and maintaining many (basic) actions per minute.
Basic fitness is an integral part of football fitness. However, football fitness is more than just a players basic fitness expressed inside the football context. Most coaches and players know intuitively that regardless of how dedicated a player is to his off-season basic fitness program, there is nothing like playing football again. The first time a player experiences 5v5 again during the pre-season, he usually experiences first-hand how little of his off-season program actually transfers. In fact, is often the case that players returning from injury make the following comment. “I just need to get games now.” Once again, players and coaches seem to know something that physiologists don’t. Football fitness and basic fitness are different.
But, of course, basic fitness certainly plays a role. During the reconditioning process, basic fitness can serve as a bridge to help the player ready himself for football fitness training. In addition, basic fitness training can be used intelligently in session design to create more realistic training environments for players to develop their football fitness.