Fitness, Injuries, Science

The Science Behind 1 Match Per-Week

Last week in our blog, I discussed how the Canadian college and university soccer regular season and play-off schedules are hurting the development and long-term health of players by forcing them to play 2, and sometimes even 3, full 90+ minute matches per week, over a 10-12 week time period.  This post garnered a large response from readers, including some supportive as well as some critical comments.  At Soccer Fitness Gols, we truly value and appreciate all of our readers’ feedback, and since our blog topic last week was so popular, I have decided to follow up by providing a more detailed summary of one of the most recent scientific studies examining the relationship between number of matches played per week, and both physical performance as well as injury rates in soccer.  Hope you like it!

In 2007, a group of researchers from the University of Lille, led by Gerard Dupont, examined data from match results, match-related physical performance, and injuries, of 32 different soccer players competing in the 2007-2008, and 2008-2009 UEFA Champions League seasons.  Participants in the UEFA Champions League were used in this study because this competition, combined with domestic league fixtures, often forces players to participate in more than one full 90+ minute match per week.  The authors were interested in determining whether any differences existed in both physical performance, as well as injury rates, between players who played in one match per week, versus players who played in two matches per week.  Players who did play in 2 matches per week averaged between 72 and 96 hours (3-4 days) of recovery between these matches.  Here is a direct quote/summary of the results from the study by Dupont et. al. (2011):

“Physical performance, as characterized by total distance covered, high-intensity distance, sprint distance, and number of sprints, was not significantly affected by the number of matches per week (1 versus 2), whereas the injury rate was significantly higher when players played 2 matches per week versus 1 match per week (25.6 versus 4.1 injuries per 1000 hours of exposure; P < .001).”

In layman’s terms, these results indicate that while players’ physical performance did not necessarily decline with 2 matches per week, their risk of injury increased by over 600%.  Interestingly, the UEFA Champions League and domestic league schedules with a combined 2 matches per week still afforded players between 3-4 full days in between each match. Unfortunately, in Canadian college and university soccer, the matches played per week typically fall on weekends, and are thus played back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday, with only 24 hours (1 day) of rest between matches. In the college/university post season, as well as in the Canadian Club National Championships and several other amateur youth soccer tournaments in Canada, recovery time between matches can be even less, with 3-4 matches played over the course of 4-5 days, and in some cases even more than one match played in the same day.  Taking this decreased recovery time into account, it may be possible that a greater risk of injury, and even a potential decrease in physical performance, may occur in these environments.  If nothing else, in my opinion this topic should at least warrant further scientific research.

Ultimately, all competitive amateur soccer schedules in Canada, at both the youth (club/academy) and adult (college/university) levels, should be structured in the best interests of the players, with players’ physical health and recovery time being of primary importance.  The science on the subject is clear: playing more than one 90+ minute soccer match per week is simply not healthy for players.  Time will tell if our Canadian amateur soccer and sport organizations will embrace this objective, scientific fact, and adjust their competitive schedules accordingly.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic.  As always please feel free to post your comments below.

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