Fatigue and Team Performance in Soccer: Evidence from the FIFA World Cup and the UEFA European Championship PDF
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Fatigue and Team Performance in Soccer: Evidence from the FIFA World Cup and the UEFA European Championship PDF

During the latest soccer European Championship held in June 2012, the Spain’s coach Vicente del Bosque told the press before the semi-final against Portugal “We have two fewer days to rest than them. It is a small handicap”.

“Three days’ rest is more than enough. The Spaniards claimed having two days is a disadvantage but, as a professional, I believe it is not an important factor,” replied Portugal’s captain Cristiano Ronaldo.

Eventually, Spain defeated Portugal.

In the same tournament, after the defeat of Italy in the Final against Spain, Italy’s coach Cesare Prandelli said:

“Really the only regret is that we didn’t have a few extra days to recuperate. You could tell right away that they were fresher physically”.

The statements of Prandelli and del Bosque echoed coach Vince Lombardi’s famous quote: ‘‘Fatigue makes cowards of us all’’.

Soccer is a physically and psychologically very demanding sport. In a match, each player on average covers a total distance of 9-12 km (Bangsbo, 1994) and performs approximately 1,350 activities, including about 220 runs at high speed (Mohr et al., 2003).

Besides running, other game-related and energy-demanding activities, such as dribbling, tackling and heading, contribute to the overall demands on the player (Bangsbo, 1994; Reilly, 1997).

In major European Leagues, such as Spain, England, Italy, Germany, top club teams play about fifty matches each year, adding up matches for the national League, the national Cup, Champions League or Europa League.

Furthermore, many top players are also employed in matches played by their national teams.

In the most important international tournaments, such as the World Cup or the European Championship, national teams play a match every three or four days in a short period of time.

Given the high number of matches played in modern soccer, a crucial question for the “productivity” of players and the optimal organization of national leagues and international championships is whether players are allowed the necessary rest between consecutive matches.

Players’ fatigue could have relevant economic effects.

Mostly important, if soccer players are tired because of insufficient time to recuperate, their performance might be less than optimal:

the speed, the acceleration, the ability to dribble, to change direction, to score, are seriously impaired when players are not in optimal physical conditions. Rottenberg (2000, p.11) vividly illustrates this aspect “The quality of a game is higher, the more grace and skills with which it is produced, the larger the number of instances of extraordinary physical achievement the appear in it”.

The fact that fatigue might affect players’ physical conditions could have direct implications on the spectators’ and fans’ expected quality of performance, lowering match attendance and the number of TV spectators (Borland and MacDonald, 2003, García and Rodríguez, 2002, and Feddersen and Rott, 2011, among others, provide strong evidence that the expected quality of a match affects attendance and demand of sport on TV).

Furthermore, insufficient time to recuperate from small injuries could cause the missing of established star players from important matches with further negative effects on demand.

Secondly, it is worthwhile to investigate if fatigue affects team performance because when days of rest are not equal among competing teams (as it is often the case in international tournaments), the balance between teams – beyond the traditional factor of the distribution of talents – might be altered.

The outcome of a match could be determined more by the scheduling of matches than by the respective abilities of players.

As it is well known (see, among others, Schmidt and Berri, 2001; Zimbalist, 2002), the uncertainty of outcome for matches and competitive balance are important determinants of demand of sports.

Considering the amount of revenues that teams and tournament obtain from attendance and TV broadcast rights, and the related sponsor and advertising activities, these issues have important implications for the optimal organization of international tournaments (but also for national league championships), since in principle there might be a trade-off between staggered matches in different dates to increase TV audience and the possible negative effects on the interest of spectators due to lower expected quality or alterations of teams’ chances of winning (see Szymanski, 2003).

Only few papers analyze the role of fatigue in sports from an economist’s point of view, and to the best of our knowledge, no empirical study investigates the impact of fatigue on team performance in soccer.

Some studies analyze the role of fatigue in the National Basketball Association (NBA).

Entine and Small (2008), using data from two recent NBA seasons and exploiting the fact that visiting teams in the NBA typically enjoy fewer days of rest, show that the lack of rest is a factor contributing to explain the home court advantage, although the effect is quantitatively small.

Ashman, Bowman and Lambrinos (2010) using NBA data for 19 seasons show that the home team performed poorly when playing in consecutive days while the visiting team had a few days of rest.

Moreover, the home team performed particularly bad when it traveled from west to east between consecutive games.

They also show that the betting market was unable to take into account the home team’s fatigue, systematically mispricing these kind of games.

Some other papers analyze whether differences in rest or in travelling times between opposing teams can contribute to explain the home field advantage (Carmichael and Thomas, 2005; Courneya and Carron, 1992; Nevill and Holder, 1999).

Fatigue and Team Performance in Soccer: Evidence from the FIFA World Cup and the UEFA European Championship



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