The impact of COVID-19 on football players and match performance

12 NOVEMBER 2020

In previous blogs, we have already discussed how the corona crisis has impacted team sports. Coaches and physical coaches were challenged to design the optimal training schedule for their players in these extraordinary times. Now that we are a few months into the new season, it is interesting to see how the physical performance of the players compares to their performance last year. Hence, in this blog, we will share data on the physical performance of players during last season and current season.


At the beginning of March, most clubs around Europe were forced to quit their group training sessions, without knowing when they could restart group training sessions or when their next match would be played. For most teams, this resulted in individual training sessions for 2-3 months. While some teams were able to finish their competitive season in May/June, others only played their first official matches in August/September. This means that some teams had a short preparation period for the start of this season, while others hadn’t played a match in more than 5 months. To make matters worse, this unusual pre-season period needed to prepare the players for a short season with a very busy match schedule. Because of these undesirable circumstances, it is interesting to see how the physical performance of the players compares to last year.


From figure 1 it can be seen that the overall performance of the players does not seem to be impacted by the corona crisis a lot. Even though the total distance has decreased a little, the distance covered at higher intensities, which are most often linked to the physical performance of the players, do not seem to be affected a lot. Furthermore, regarding the explosive actions of the players, these also do not seem to be at a lower level than last year.


Even though the current numbers do not show any deterioration in physical performance, this does not mean that the crisis doesn’t have an impact on the players. In fact, there is already some evidence that the corona crisis has affected the players. In the Premier League, there has been an increase in the number of injuries (42%) at this stage of the season compared to the same time around last year. Thus even though the players might be able to deliver the same workload during matches, this same workload might cause more fatigue in the players (or might be perceived as tougher). When fatigue is building in the players, this might lead to a worsened physical, technical, and tactical before during the match and a higher risk of injury.


Given these circumstances, it is beneficial to not only monitor the physical performance of the players (GPS-data) but to enrich these results with information on the well-being and fatigue levels of the players (JOHAN RPE App). By using wellness questionnaires, you will get insights into the fatigue levels of the players. This allows you to act upon any outliers in the data before it is too late. So make sure that you are thinking one step ahead, and use all available information to guide your team through these remarkable times!