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Peak Fitness: Factors affecting a player’s match activity

Following on from last week’s article focusing on the importance of individualising training sessions and programmes for your players, this week we delve a little deeper to explore the differing demands placed on players during matches, and how this information can guide our practice.

After all, as a fitness coach we must ultimately try to improve a player’s capacity to cope with the demands placed on them during competitive situations.

So, how do we determine a player’s match activity?

Reilly & Thomas (1976) were the first two researchers who attempted to quantify the demands of elite level football.

Using the distances between advertising boards and notational analysis, they set out to determine how far the players were running over the course of 90 minutes.

Demands of elite football

Thirty five years later, and research focusing on quantifying the demands of elite football has taken giant strides forward with the introduction of match analysis software such as Pro-zone, and physiological monitoring equipment, most notably heart rate monitors and GPS.

It is therefore imperative that as a fitness coach, we take a holistic approach to analysing each individual player’s requirements, which will often involve a lot of collaboration with other staff and departments.

As fitness coaches, what can we gain from performance analysis?

It is now possible to get access to a vast amount of individual physiological data from performance analysis software including; total distance covered, total distance covered whilst walking, jogging, running, sprinting, average speed throughout the game, average sprint distances, distance covered in possession, distance covered without possession.

The list could go on. However, the data we collect for each individual player we generally be reliant on four main factors; playing position, style of play, level of play and the environment.

For the majority of fitness coaches, the level their players compete at and the environment are generally out of your control. Thus, it is important to focus your attention the team’s style, and individual’s positions.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Which team covered the greatest distance in this season’s Premier League game between Manchester United and Bolton Wanderers?
  2. Who tends to cover more distance at high intensities, a centre forward or an attacking full-back?
  3. Would your team cover more distance if they were playing 4-4-2 or 4-3-3?


These may be questions that haven’t really crossed our minds before, but the answers are clearly essential to planning effective training programmes for your squad.

Think back to last week’s article: and consider whether you feel a centre half should be undertaking the same training programme as a wide player in a 4-3-3?

So, what can we do as fitness coaches to further improve our practice?

On the whole, not everything in football is always as it first seems. Look back to the first question posed earlier; I’m guessing quite a few of you thought Manchester United would have covered a greater distance then Bolton Wanderers during this seasons Premier League match?

Greater distance 

However, when we analyse the data, it is actually Bolton who cover the greater distance, primarily due to the Trotters having less possession, and consequently having to do more running to win the ball back. 

Subsequently, it is imperative we work closely with analysts and coaching staff to ascertain how your team are going to play, and how this will affect the demands placed upon your players.

It is then crucial to critically analyse your data and use your statistics as the basis to design your practices. On-going research is thus essential within your football club to establish changes in demands on your players, but above all else, design your programmes based on evidence, not intuition.

References: Reilly, T & Thomas, V (1976) ‘A motion analysis of work-rate in different positional roles in professional football match play’ Journal of Human Movement Studies, 2, pp87-97.

Jordan McCann is head of sports science, fitness and conditioning at Luton Town. He is happy to receive any of your questions via email:

Next week’s topic: Should elite football players under the age of 16 be lifting weights?

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