The Open Sports Sciences Journal




ISSN: 1875-399X ― Volume 13, 2020
REVIEW ARTICLE

The Continuous and Fractionated Game Format on the Training Load in Small Sided Games in Soccer



Luís C. Branquinho1, Ricardo Ferraz1, 2, *, Mário C. Marques1, 2
1 Department of Sport Sciences, University of Beira Interior, Covilhã, Portugal
2 Research Center in Sports Sciences, Health Sciences and Human Development, CIDESD, Covilhã, Portugal

Abstract

The training load has become relevant for coaches in recent years. Several studies were carried out to verify the impact on the training load during the performance of small-sided games in soccer. However, recent research is now focused on the effects of using different methods and the study of different recovery times on training load in SSG deserves more attention. In this brief review, we critically analyze the impact of using different training methods and different recovery time, inferring with their impact on the external and internal training load during the performance of Small-Sided Games in soccer. The correct choice of training method can help coaches to increase the performance of their teams and achieve the proposed training objectives.

Keywords: Soccer, Different training methods, Continuous format, Fractionated format, Different recovery times, External load, Internal load.


Article Information


Identifiers and Pagination:

Year: 2020
Volume: 13
First Page: 81
Last Page: 85
Publisher Id: TOSSJ-13-81
DOI: 10.2174/1875399X02013010081

Article History:

Received Date: 3/6/2020
Revision Received Date: 11/8/2020
Acceptance Date: 13/8/2020
Electronic publication date: 15/10/2020
Collection year: 2020

© 2020 Branquinho et al.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode. This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


* Address correspondence to this author at the Department of Sports Sciences, University of Beira Interior (Covilhã), Portugal, Convento de Santo António, 6201-001 (Covilhã) Portugal; Tel: +351 275 329 153; Fax: 00 351 275 329 183; E-mail: ricardompferraz@gmail.com





1. INTRODUCTION

1.1. Problem Definition

Soccer is typically regarded as an intermittent sport [1Bangsbo J. The physiology of soccer--with special reference to intense intermittent exercise. Acta Physiol Scand Suppl 1994; 619(619): 1-155.
[PMID: 8059610]
] with multiple unpredictable actions. Therefore, it is important for soccer training to recreate the dynamic nature of the game to be representative of all competition requirements. According to the literature, these demanding standards can be achieved by recreating the game through Small-sided Games (SSG) [2Hill-Haas S V, Dawson B, Impellizzeri FM, Coutts AJ. Physiology of small-sided games training in football: A systematic review. Sport Med 2011; 41(3): 199-220.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.2165/11539740-000000000-00000]
, 3Köklü Y. A comparison of physiological responses to various intermittent and continuous small-sided games in young soccer players. J Hum Kinet 2012; 31(1): 89-96. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23486995]. In addition SSG, highlight similar combinations of technical, tactical, and physical players' abilities as those observed in full-sized matches [2Hill-Haas S V, Dawson B, Impellizzeri FM, Coutts AJ. Physiology of small-sided games training in football: A systematic review. Sport Med 2011; 41(3): 199-220.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.2165/11539740-000000000-00000]
, 4Bujalance-Moreno P, Latorre-Román PÁ, García-Pinillos F. A systematic review on small-sided games in football players: Acute and chronic adaptations. J Sports Sci 2019; 37(8): 921-49.], several studies also showed the manipulation of some variables during these games, like the total duration, and the duration periods between repetitions (i.e., the use of continuous or fractionated methods) [5Hill-Haas SV, Dawson BT, Coutts AJ, Rowsell GJ. Sixth International Conference on Sport, Leisure and Ergonomics: 14–16 November 2007. J Sports Sci 2009; 27(sup1): S1-35., 6Köklü Y, Alemdaroǧlu U, Cihan H, Wong DP. Effects of bout duration on players’ internal and external loads during small-sided games in young soccer players. Int J Sports Physiol Perform 2017; 12(10): 1370-7.]. Regarding the duration of the exercise, the literature described that using the continuous or fractional method, during the performance of SSG, for different periods of time causes different changes in the training load (TL) [6Köklü Y, Alemdaroǧlu U, Cihan H, Wong DP. Effects of bout duration on players’ internal and external loads during small-sided games in young soccer players. Int J Sports Physiol Perform 2017; 12(10): 1370-7.], particularly due to the changes that occur in the intensity distribution during the different performance periods [7Fanchini M, Azzalin A, Castagna C, Schena F, Mccall A, Impellizzeri FM. Effect of bout duration on exercise intensity and technical performance of small-sided games in soccer. J Strength Cond Res 2011; 25(2): 453-8.].The use of SSG also allows the development of players’ decision-making skills under pressure and fatigue [8Gabbett TJ, Mulvey MJ. Time-motion analysis of small-sided training games and competition in elite women soccer players. J Strength Cond Res 2008; 22(2): 543-2.]. Indeed, fatigue can significantly affect motor and perceptual processing [9Akenhead R, Nassis GP. Training load and player monitoring in high-level football: Current practice and perceptions. Int J Sports Physiol Perform 2016; 11(5): 587-93.-12Thorpe RT, Atkinson G, Drust B, Gregson W. Monitoring fatigue status in elite team-sport athletes: Implications for practice. Int J Sports Physiol Perform 2017; 12(Suppl. 2): S227-34.http://journals.humankinetics.com/doi/abs/10.1123/ijspp.2016-0434
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1123/ijspp.2016-0434] [PMID: 28095065]
], which has a direct relationship with physiological and metabolic failures during SSG. Therefore, correct control and monitoring of the training load is essential to prevent levels of fatigue from limiting the objectives to be achieved and to ensure that the technical and tactical objectives of the exercise are marked out according to the physical objectives. The training load has been described as the training variable that can be manipulated to elicit the desired training response [13Coutts AJ, Crowcroft S, Kempton T. Developing athlete monitoring systems: Theoretical basis and practical applications1.Sport, Recovery, and Performance: Interdisciplinary Insights 2017; 19-32.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.4324/9781315268149-2]
], and can be classified as internal or external and reflects the requirements imposed on athletes [14Bourdon PC, Cardinale M, Murray A, Gastin P, Kellmann M, Varley MC, et al. Monitoring athlete training loads: Consensus statement. Int J Sports Physiol Perform 2017; 12(Suppl 2): 161-70., 15Lambert MI, Borresen J. Measuring training load in sports. Int J Sports Physiol Perform 2010; 5(3): 406-11.https://journals.humankinetics.com/view/journals/ijspp/5/3/article-p406.xml
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1123/ijspp.5.3.406] [PMID: 20861529]
]; however, some questions remain unanswered, such as those relating to the use of the continuous and fractional methods as well as the manipulation of three critical variables related to SSG prescription: time duration, interval of rest, and number of repetitions.

The present review highlights the impact on internal and external loads resulting from the application of the continuous and fractionated methods in SSG. It also aims to give importance to the effects of different recovery durations between repetitions on training load during SSG. Ultimately, a review is necessary to summarize the findings and new evidence on changes in training load resulting from performing SSG using continuous or fractional methods and with different recovery time. To search for relevant publications and ensure the quality of the articles, the following databases were used: Web of Science (the modules “Core” and “Medline”), Scopus and PubMed. Articles that were published in 2020 or before and in English were considered. The search strategy comprised search terms that combined one of the two primary keywords (“soccer” or “football”) with a second keyword (small-side games” or “small and conditioned games”) and a third keyword (“recovery time”, “training load”, “continuous method”, “fractionated method”), using the boolean operator. The inclusion criteria for these articles were: (1) relevant data on: training load, training method (continuous/fractional) and / or recovery time, during SSG; (2) the participants included amateur and / or professional male and female soccer players; and (3), the articles were published in English. Studies were excluded if: (1) not included data relevant to this study; and (2), were conference abstracts. The articles were screened based on an assessment of both the title and the abstract. All articles without a clear focus of the investigation were excluded. In total, 133 articles were considered relevant for this review. These articles were read in detail by two senior researchers with substantial experience in the field (including relevant publications) and assessed for relevance and quality. Articles that did not meet the criteria were excluded. After this step, 25 articles remained.

2. SUMMARY OF PREVIOUS RESEARCH

Prior investigations on the influence of the continuous and fractionated training methods on training load are inconclusive and present contradictory outcomes [3Köklü Y. A comparison of physiological responses to various intermittent and continuous small-sided games in young soccer players. J Hum Kinet 2012; 31(1): 89-96. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23486995, 4Bujalance-Moreno P, Latorre-Román PÁ, García-Pinillos F. A systematic review on small-sided games in football players: Acute and chronic adaptations. J Sports Sci 2019; 37(8): 921-49., 6Köklü Y, Alemdaroǧlu U, Cihan H, Wong DP. Effects of bout duration on players’ internal and external loads during small-sided games in young soccer players. Int J Sports Physiol Perform 2017; 12(10): 1370-7., 7Fanchini M, Azzalin A, Castagna C, Schena F, Mccall A, Impellizzeri FM. Effect of bout duration on exercise intensity and technical performance of small-sided games in soccer. J Strength Cond Res 2011; 25(2): 453-8., 16Sarmento H, Clemente FM, Araújo D, Davids K, McRobert A, Figueiredo A. What Performance Analysts Need to Know About Research Trends in Association Football (2012-2016): A Systematic Review. Sports Med 2018; 48(4): 799-836.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s40279-017-0836-6] [PMID: 29243038]
-18Yücesoy M, Erkmen N, Aktas S, Güven F, Durmaz M. Interval Versus Continuous Small-Sided Soccer Games With Same Pitch Size and Number of Players 2019; 631.]; however, changes in training load may occur during SSG [19Köklü Y, Alemdaroǧlu U, Cihan H, Wong DP, Köklö Y, Alemdaroǧlu U, et al. Effects of bout duration on players’ internal and external loads during small-sided games in young soccer players. Int J Sports Physiol Perform 2017; 12(10): 1370-7.] as well as improvements in aerobic capacity [3Köklü Y. A comparison of physiological responses to various intermittent and continuous small-sided games in young soccer players. J Hum Kinet 2012; 31(1): 89-96. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23486995]. Still, the type of changes induced in the internal and external loads and their causes remain controversial among the scientific community. In this regard, some authors [6Köklü Y, Alemdaroǧlu U, Cihan H, Wong DP. Effects of bout duration on players’ internal and external loads during small-sided games in young soccer players. Int J Sports Physiol Perform 2017; 12(10): 1370-7., 7Fanchini M, Azzalin A, Castagna C, Schena F, Mccall A, Impellizzeri FM. Effect of bout duration on exercise intensity and technical performance of small-sided games in soccer. J Strength Cond Res 2011; 25(2): 453-8., 18Yücesoy M, Erkmen N, Aktas S, Güven F, Durmaz M. Interval Versus Continuous Small-Sided Soccer Games With Same Pitch Size and Number of Players 2019; 631., 20Impellizzeri FM, Marcora SM, Coutts AJ. Internal and external training load: 15 years on. Int J Sports Physiol Perform 2019; 14(2): 270-3.https://journals.humankinetics.com/view/journals/ijspp/14/2/article-p270.xml
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1123/ijspp.2018-0935] [PMID: 30614348]
] have suggested that increasing repetition duration brings an increase in physiological responses, specifically heart rate (HR) [4Bujalance-Moreno P, Latorre-Román PÁ, García-Pinillos F. A systematic review on small-sided games in football players: Acute and chronic adaptations. J Sports Sci 2019; 37(8): 921-49.] and % max.HR [3Köklü Y. A comparison of physiological responses to various intermittent and continuous small-sided games in young soccer players. J Hum Kinet 2012; 31(1): 89-96. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23486995, 17Hill-Haas S V, Rowsell GJ, Dawson BT, Coutts AJ. Acute physiological responses and timemotion characteristics of two small-sided training regimes in youth soccer players. J Strength Cond Res 2009; 23(1): 111-5.]; therefore, the continuous method induces a greater internal load compared to the fractionated method. In the same line of investigation, other authors [3Köklü Y. A comparison of physiological responses to various intermittent and continuous small-sided games in young soccer players. J Hum Kinet 2012; 31(1): 89-96. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23486995, 21Christopher J, Beato M, Hulton AT. Manipulation of exercise to rest ratio within set duration on physical and technical outcomes during small-sided games in elite youth soccer players. Hum Mov Sci 2016; 48: 1-6.http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167945716300331
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.humov.2016.03.013] [PMID: 27082027]
] state that the physiological responses are similar regardless of the training method chosen by the coach, while divergent opinions are presented in other investigations [22Owen A, Twist C, Ford P. Small-Sided Games : The Physiological and Technical Effect of Altering Pitch Size and Player Numbers. Insight 2004; 7(2): 50-3., 23Sampaio J, Garcia G, Maçãs V, Ibáñez SJ, Abrantes C, Caixinha P. Heart rate and perceptual responses to 2x2 and 3x3 small-sided youth soccer games. J Sports Sci Med 2007; 6(10): 121-2.]. Regarding external load indicators, previous studies that compared SSG performed using both methods with real game situations inferred that, although the intensity is higher in real game situations, the workload is higher during the performance of SSG regardless of the format, particularly in relation to the distance traveled per minute [24Castellano J, Casamichana D, Lago C. The use of match statistics that discriminate between successful and unsuccessful soccer teams. J Hum Kinet 2012; 31(1): 139-47.http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?eid=2-s2.0-84859396471&partnerID=40&md5=508bdd452a8036d1913750e57f89e539
[http://dx.doi.org/10.2478/v10078-012-0015-7] [PMID: 23487020]
], in addition to other variables that have been analyzed (e.g., the intensity of displacements made [25Aguiar M, Botelho G, Lago C, Maças V, Sampaio J. A review on the effects of soccer small-sided games. J Hum Kinet 2012; 33(1): 103-13.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.2478/v10078-012-0049-x] [PMID: 23486554]
], total distances traveled, and total distances traveled at high intensities [26Aasgaard M, Kilding AE. Does Man Marking Influence Running Outputs and Intensity During Small-Sided Soccer Games? J Strength Cond Res 2018; 2018: 1.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000002668] [PMID: 29927895]
, 27Cihan H. The effect of defensive strategies on the physiological responses and time-motion characteristics in small-sided games. Kinesiology 2015; 47(2): 179-87.], but more research is required about this topic. In general, the investigations conducted suggest that both training methods can be used for physiological adaptations and match-specific conditioning, but further research is needed to identify which training method is most efficient for SSG. In addition to selecting the training method, coaches must consider the recovery time chosen between each repetition performed since the ability to maintain high intensities is directly related to the ability to recover quickly from previous repetitions performed [28Balsom PD, Seger JY, Sjodin B, Ekblom B. Maximal-intensity intermittent exercise: Effect of recovery duration. Int J Sports Med 1992; 13(7): 528-33.]. In this regard, it has been suggested [29Köklü Y, Alemdaroğlu U, Dellal A, Wong DP. Effect of different recovery durations between bouts in 3-a-side games on youth soccer players’ physiological responses and technical activities. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 2015; 55(5): 430-8.
[PMID: 25698352]
] that short recovery periods can cause increases in training load ; however, other approaches suggest that there are no differences between different recovery time [30McLean S, Kerhervé H, Lovell GP, Gorman AD, Solomon C. The effect of recovery duration on vastus lateralis oxygenation, heart rate, perceived exertion and time motion descriptors during small sided football games. PLoS One 2016; 11(2): e0150201.], while another study suggests that longer recovery periods showed less homogeneity of the heart rate (HR) [31Dellal A, Jannault R, Lopez-Segovia M, Pialoux V. Influence of the numbers of players in the heart rate responses of youth soccer players within 2 vs. 2, 3 vs. 3 and 4 vs. 4 small-sided games. J Hum Kinet 2011; 28(1): 107-14.https://content.sciendo.com/view/journals/hukin/28/1/article-p107.xml
[http://dx.doi.org/10.2478/v10078-011-0027-8] [PMID: 23487546]
].

3. EXPLANATION OF SUBJECT MATTER

The literature describes that the performance of an exercise using the continuous or fractionated methods can cause changes in the training load [6Köklü Y, Alemdaroǧlu U, Cihan H, Wong DP. Effects of bout duration on players’ internal and external loads during small-sided games in young soccer players. Int J Sports Physiol Perform 2017; 12(10): 1370-7.], especially due to the changes that are verified in the intensity distribution during the different periods of performance [7Fanchini M, Azzalin A, Castagna C, Schena F, Mccall A, Impellizzeri FM. Effect of bout duration on exercise intensity and technical performance of small-sided games in soccer. J Strength Cond Res 2011; 25(2): 453-8.]. Usually, the SSG is prescribed using the fractionated method [32Harrison CB, Kilding AE, Gill ND, Kinugasa T. Small-sided games for young athletes: Is game specificity influential? J Sports Sci 2014; 32(4): 336-44.], although the continuous training method is more similar to the demands of the real game [25Aguiar M, Botelho G, Lago C, Maças V, Sampaio J. A review on the effects of soccer small-sided games. J Hum Kinet 2012; 33(1): 103-13.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.2478/v10078-012-0049-x] [PMID: 23486554]
]. One of the aforementioned studies [7Fanchini M, Azzalin A, Castagna C, Schena F, Mccall A, Impellizzeri FM. Effect of bout duration on exercise intensity and technical performance of small-sided games in soccer. J Strength Cond Res 2011; 25(2): 453-8.] concluded that during the total duration of SSG, the value of HR is smaller with shorter repetitions (e.g., 2 min) compared to longer repetitions (e.g., 6 min). Collectively, these results may suggest that when considering the total duration of the SSG, the continuous method induces higher HR responses compared to the fractionated method with shorter repetitions. Some possible justifications for these results have been identified, such as the additional rest between repetitions that causes decreases in HR [25Aguiar M, Botelho G, Lago C, Maças V, Sampaio J. A review on the effects of soccer small-sided games. J Hum Kinet 2012; 33(1): 103-13.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.2478/v10078-012-0049-x] [PMID: 23486554]
] and a pacing effect that can encourage players to set the pace of the game [33Carling C, Bloomfield J, Nelsen L, Reilly T. The role of motion analysis in elite soccer: Contemporary performance measurement techniques and work rate data. Sport Med 2008; 38(10): 839-62.]. Finally, some studies also show that SSG performed under the continuous or fractionated formats displayed identical physiological responses for both training regimes [3Köklü Y. A comparison of physiological responses to various intermittent and continuous small-sided games in young soccer players. J Hum Kinet 2012; 31(1): 89-96. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23486995, 18Yücesoy M, Erkmen N, Aktas S, Güven F, Durmaz M. Interval Versus Continuous Small-Sided Soccer Games With Same Pitch Size and Number of Players 2019; 631.]. In this respect, a study [21Christopher J, Beato M, Hulton AT. Manipulation of exercise to rest ratio within set duration on physical and technical outcomes during small-sided games in elite youth soccer players. Hum Mov Sci 2016; 48: 1-6.http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167945716300331
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.humov.2016.03.013] [PMID: 27082027]
] also observed no differences in physiological indicators when comparing both training methods. Collectively, these results suggest that both regimes can be used for physiological adaptations and match-specific conditioning. The development of the player's physical condition is one of the essential factors for performance [34Haghighi A, Moghadasi M, Nikseresht A, Torkfar A, Haghighi M. Effects of plyometric versus resistance training on sprint and skill performance in young soccer players. Eur J Exp Biol 2012; 2(6): 2348-51.] and also depends on the interaction between exercise duration and subsequent recovery periods, as well as exercise intensity and recovery [1Bangsbo J. The physiology of soccer--with special reference to intense intermittent exercise. Acta Physiol Scand Suppl 1994; 619(619): 1-155.
[PMID: 8059610]
]. Indeed, the recovery period between sets may result in an increased HR response in the following series, thus better removal of substrates during the stipulated rest period [35Hill-Haas S, Coutts A, Rowsell G, Dawson B. Variability of acute physiological responses and performance profiles of youth soccer players in small-sided games. J Sci Med Sport 2008; 11(5): 487-90.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2007.07.006] [PMID: 17825620]
], which allows physiological recovery and higher intensities of work in the following repetitions [5Hill-Haas SV, Dawson BT, Coutts AJ, Rowsell GJ. Sixth International Conference on Sport, Leisure and Ergonomics: 14–16 November 2007. J Sports Sci 2009; 27(sup1): S1-35.]. Although most studies on SSG are prescribed with short rest intervals, some recent studies have used variations in recovery time (e.g., 10 min to 30 min) [2Hill-Haas S V, Dawson B, Impellizzeri FM, Coutts AJ. Physiology of small-sided games training in football: A systematic review. Sport Med 2011; 41(3): 199-220.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.2165/11539740-000000000-00000]
]. The training load is relevant in the player's physical state since performance optimization is only achieved from post-training and competition recovery periods; thus it is necessary to consider an optimum balance between the stress resulting from the stimulus and adequate recovery intervals [36Kellmann M. Enhancing Recovery: Preventing Underperformance in Athletes 2002.https://books.google.com/books?id=Qp-WkTxvlvIC&pgis=1]. Exercise variables such as duration, recovery, and intensity are therefore considered the predominant vectors of the training load [37Brink MS, Nederhof E, Visscher C, Schmikli SL, Lemmink KAPM. Monitoring load, recovery, and performance in young elite soccer players. J Strength Cond Res 2010; 24(3): 597-603.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181c4d38b] [PMID: 20145570]
].

4. CONTRADICTIONS AND PROBLEMS

Usually, the SSG is prescribed by the fractionated method [32Harrison CB, Kilding AE, Gill ND, Kinugasa T. Small-sided games for young athletes: Is game specificity influential? J Sports Sci 2014; 32(4): 336-44.], although the continuous training method is more similar to the demands of real games [25Aguiar M, Botelho G, Lago C, Maças V, Sampaio J. A review on the effects of soccer small-sided games. J Hum Kinet 2012; 33(1): 103-13.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.2478/v10078-012-0049-x] [PMID: 23486554]
]. One of the aforementioned studies [7Fanchini M, Azzalin A, Castagna C, Schena F, Mccall A, Impellizzeri FM. Effect of bout duration on exercise intensity and technical performance of small-sided games in soccer. J Strength Cond Res 2011; 25(2): 453-8.] concluded that during the total duration of SSG, the value of HR is smaller with shorter repetitions (e.g., 2 min) compared to longer repetitions (e.g., 6 min). These results seem to suggest that the continuous method induces higher HR responses compared to the fractionated method with shorter repetitions, considering the total duration of SSG. Some possible justifications for these results have been identified, such as the additional rest between repetitions that cause decreases in HR [25Aguiar M, Botelho G, Lago C, Maças V, Sampaio J. A review on the effects of soccer small-sided games. J Hum Kinet 2012; 33(1): 103-13.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.2478/v10078-012-0049-x] [PMID: 23486554]
] and a pacing effect that can induce players to set the pace of the game [33Carling C, Bloomfield J, Nelsen L, Reilly T. The role of motion analysis in elite soccer: Contemporary performance measurement techniques and work rate data. Sport Med 2008; 38(10): 839-62.]. In addition, the duration of repetitions may be a determining factor to be considered, as shorter and successively shorter repetitions appear to cause lower % max HR compared to longer repetitions [3Köklü Y. A comparison of physiological responses to various intermittent and continuous small-sided games in young soccer players. J Hum Kinet 2012; 31(1): 89-96. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23486995, 4Bujalance-Moreno P, Latorre-Román PÁ, García-Pinillos F. A systematic review on small-sided games in football players: Acute and chronic adaptations. J Sports Sci 2019; 37(8): 921-49., 17Hill-Haas S V, Rowsell GJ, Dawson BT, Coutts AJ. Acute physiological responses and timemotion characteristics of two small-sided training regimes in youth soccer players. J Strength Cond Res 2009; 23(1): 111-5.]. Contrary to this evidence, a study comparing the use of longer and shorter repetitions found that the physiological responses were similar [3Köklü Y. A comparison of physiological responses to various intermittent and continuous small-sided games in young soccer players. J Hum Kinet 2012; 31(1): 89-96. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23486995].

On the other hand, SSG could induce various responses in the external load. A previous study, which compared the SSG and a regular game performance, concluded that the level of intensity during the regular soccer game was higher compared to the performance of the SSG, although the distance covered per minute was greater during the SSG [24Castellano J, Casamichana D, Lago C. The use of match statistics that discriminate between successful and unsuccessful soccer teams. J Hum Kinet 2012; 31(1): 139-47.http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?eid=2-s2.0-84859396471&partnerID=40&md5=508bdd452a8036d1913750e57f89e539
[http://dx.doi.org/10.2478/v10078-012-0015-7] [PMID: 23487020]
]. Another study [25Aguiar M, Botelho G, Lago C, Maças V, Sampaio J. A review on the effects of soccer small-sided games. J Hum Kinet 2012; 33(1): 103-13.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.2478/v10078-012-0049-x] [PMID: 23486554]
] observed that a reduction in the number of players participating in the SSG caused a decrease in the distance covered and the amount of sprints performed. Other investigations [26Aasgaard M, Kilding AE. Does Man Marking Influence Running Outputs and Intensity During Small-Sided Soccer Games? J Strength Cond Res 2018; 2018: 1.
[http://dx.doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000002668] [PMID: 29927895]
, 27Cihan H. The effect of defensive strategies on the physiological responses and time-motion characteristics in small-sided games. Kinesiology 2015; 47(2): 179-87.] reported that the inclusion of defensive strategies (e.g., man-to-man marking) by the coach promoted an increase in the total distance covered, at high intensities, while the inclusion of goalkeepers caused an increase in the number of accelerations [38Casamichana D, Castellano J, Dellal A. Influence of different training regimes on physical and physiological demands during small-sided soccer games: Continuous vs. intermittent format. J Strength Cond Res 2013; 27(3): 690-7.].

Although the choice of training method is a fundamental factor in defining the training load, the recovery time between repetitions also plays an important role in the training load imposed by the exercise and should be carefully analyzed by the coaches. Given that the ability to maintain high intensities during exercise depends on the recovery from repetitions of previous exercises [28Balsom PD, Seger JY, Sjodin B, Ekblom B. Maximal-intensity intermittent exercise: Effect of recovery duration. Int J Sports Med 1992; 13(7): 528-33.], Köklü et al. [29Köklü Y, Alemdaroğlu U, Dellal A, Wong DP. Effect of different recovery durations between bouts in 3-a-side games on youth soccer players’ physiological responses and technical activities. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 2015; 55(5): 430-8.
[PMID: 25698352]
] reported that, when a coach selects the fractionated training method, the number of repetitions and duration of repetitions are considerably affected by the physical demands of the tasks. These results were corroborated by a study that investigated the effects of different recovery periods of 1, 2, 3, and 4 min, respectively [29Köklü Y, Alemdaroğlu U, Dellal A, Wong DP. Effect of different recovery durations between bouts in 3-a-side games on youth soccer players’ physiological responses and technical activities. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 2015; 55(5): 430-8.
[PMID: 25698352]
]. The same conclusions were drawn from a study that had recovery periods of 30 s and 120 s and aimed to analyze variation in HR, the effects of oxygenation on muscles, and the movement demands resulting from the task [30McLean S, Kerhervé H, Lovell GP, Gorman AD, Solomon C. The effect of recovery duration on vastus lateralis oxygenation, heart rate, perceived exertion and time motion descriptors during small sided football games. PLoS One 2016; 11(2): e0150201.]. In this respect, exercise duration and recovery time may be determining factors for controlling the training load and consequently, physical and physiological responses.

CONCLUSION

Overall previous studies have allowed coaches better control of training load during SSGs; however, some questions remain unanswered, such as those relating to the use of the continuous and fractional methods as well as, for example, the manipulation of three critical variables related to the SSG prescription: time duration, interval of rest, and number of repetitions. The current data highlights some lack of consensus in the use of both methods and the effects of manipulation on the variables identified remain inconclusive, and further studies are needed to clarify the topic due to its importance in training manipulation and control.

Following a new line of investigation, one recent study [39Branquinho L, Ferraz R, Travassos B, C Marques M. Comparison between continuous and fractionated game format on internal and external load in small-sided games in soccer. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2020; 17(2)E405
[http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17020405] [PMID: 31936244]
], which sought to respond to existing gaps in the literature, proposed new evidence that can be extremely useful for coaches in the prescription and control of training load during the performance of SSG. In this study [39Branquinho L, Ferraz R, Travassos B, C Marques M. Comparison between continuous and fractionated game format on internal and external load in small-sided games in soccer. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2020; 17(2)E405
[http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17020405] [PMID: 31936244]
], the effects of the continuous and fractionated formats on the training load were investigated during the performance of a five-a-side SSG involving professional soccer players. The players performed the same exercise using the continuous (1 x 24m) and fractionated (2 x 12m; 4 x 6m and 6 x 4m) method, and the results indicated that the use of the continuous method has a tendency to cause less impact on internal and external loads. Furthermore, the authors state that the increase in exercise fractionation through the fractionated method induced increases in the external load. In general, the study revealed that the application of SSG by the fractionated method tends to cause greater training load while performing SSG. The results [39Branquinho L, Ferraz R, Travassos B, C Marques M. Comparison between continuous and fractionated game format on internal and external load in small-sided games in soccer. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2020; 17(2)E405
[http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17020405] [PMID: 31936244]
] emphasize the importance of the coach in choosing the training method to be used, since the correct manipulation of this variable helps in the management of exercise fatigue and in the increase or decrease of the resulting training load. In addition, it introduced a new paradigm that uses both training methods. According to the author [39Branquinho L, Ferraz R, Travassos B, C Marques M. Comparison between continuous and fractionated game format on internal and external load in small-sided games in soccer. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2020; 17(2)E405
[http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17020405] [PMID: 31936244]
], the fractional method with short repetitions is appropriate if the coach intends to achieve high physical performance and high training load responses for the training unit. Conversely, if the objective is to perform careful management of the players' effort, to reduce the imposed training load, or to make players focus on learning content (e.g., tactical components), then the continuous method should be used. This study suggests new approaches for the use of the continuous and fractionated training method, as well as the importance of optimal recovery time when utilizing a five-a-side SSG format.

SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER RESEARCH

Following a new trend of investigation, and in order to respond to the gaps in the literature, future research can focus on the the relationship between exercise and recovery durations during SSG in soccer, since the manipulation of time duration, the interval of rest, and the number of repetitions are variables with lack of study and little consensus. Particularly and according to the literature gap, it may also be relevant to study the effects of the fractionated method in SSGs when considering the same total duration of exercise (total and in each repetition) and employing different recovery times. Other objectives can be tested: i) understanding and comparing the impact of a team's playing style on training load indicators, tactical behavior, and technical performance resulting from SSG applied by different methods; ii) comparing possible differences in the perception of the players' effort in performing different fractionated SSG formats with the same total duration and different recovery times; and iii) investigating changes in technical and tactical components based on the use of different training methods. Some of the findings could provide new insights for researchers, coaches, and athletes to improve training efficiency and optimize performances.

CONSENT FOR PUBLICATION

Not applicable.

FUNDING

This work is supported by the national funding through the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology, I.P., under project UID04045/2020.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The authors declare no conflict of interest, financial or otherwise.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Declared none.

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