Not fit, then fit?

When watching a football game on TV you often hear that the commentator or pundits exclaim at the end of a half that one or both teams are tired, they imply or outright say that one or both teams is not fit. Of course this can, at least in theory be true and a correct observation, but most of the time it’s just nonsense.

Imagine you’re watching a game which is played in what you regard as a high tempo and good quality for the majority of the first half. Then all of a sudden the tempo drops and both teams are making fewer actions per minute and the game has slowed down to an essential halt. This is usually the time when the TV pundits offer their “expertise” and conclude that both teams are tired.

The problem with that statement is that when you’re observing the game slowing down its still in the first half with 5 minutes remaining. However, when you continue watching the game you see that in the second half the tempo is as high, or even higher than in the beginning of the game even though time is winding down and the clock has passed the 90 minute mark. How is this possible?

How can both teams be “tired” in minute 40 of the game but play the at their highest possible tempo with the same players in minute 90? Logic implies that if you’re tired after 40 minutes then, even with a 15 minute break, you’d be more tired in the 90th minute. So what’s going on?

First of all it’s important to define what Football Fitness is since the claim that one or both teams are not fit after 40 minutes but very fit in the 90th minute makes no sense. Football fitness is to execute the playing style at the highest possible (or needed) tempo and to maintain the playing style for the full 90 minutes. For the players that means to execute football actions (see: Explaining a Football Action) more often (higher tempo) and for longer (maintaining quality and quantity) – if needed.

Back to our imaginary game that you have seen many times with the two teams slowing down the last five minutes before halftime, what could be a different reason than “being tired” for the drop in tempo?

If you ever played the game yourself you remember asking the referee a hundred times at the end of a half or the game how much time is remaining. Why did you do that? Well, sometimes it was because you thought you were tired, although most often it presumably had something to do with the score of the game.

If you were winning and heard that it was only few minutes remaining you may have decided to kick the ball into the ocean instead of trying to squeeze a pass through the opponents to reach your striker. However, if you were losing you directed your team-mates to play the passes forwards instead of backwards, telling everyone to get into the box in order to score that equalizing goal at the end.

In other words, your actions and how you executed your playing style was different depending on the score and the time remaining. That means that when there is only 5 minutes remaining of the first half in an extremely important game, and the score is whatever both teams think is a good way to end the first half – the tempo might drop a bit – or a lot.

All of a sudden, whatever the objective is for the teams in our imaginary game, they are temporarily satisfied with the result before the halftime break and start making decisions that are less risky and as a result the tempo probably drops.

The same phenomena can be observed in games where one team is clearly winning and one, or both teams just want the game to end and move on to the next game. No need to exhaust yourself and playing with the highest tempo possible when you can win and conserve energy to the next game.

To summarize, it might be smart to include what kind of thinking is going on in relation to the score, time and other factors such as for example home/away, cup, league or double leg game, before you conclude that one or both teams are tired or not fit in this one game.

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