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.