In a team sports’ season, players likely experience congested fixture schedules, characterized by multiple games within a brief time period. To face such a dense modern competitive schedule, players often undergo an increasing number of training sessions. The combination of multiple games and numerous training sessions within a short time period could induce marked psychophysiological stress on the athletes, making the recovery between the events a crucial effective element of the whole training process. In fact, congested fixture schedules typical of a team sports’ season consequently affects the recovery process between the events, thus preventing players from an optimal recovery in terms of quantity and quality. This condition of prolonged fatigue might be reflected on the overall psychophysiological status of the athletes, causing neuromuscular and biochemical perturbations, physical and cognitive performance decline, technical skills impairment, and increased likelihood of injury occurrence. As performance and recovery in team sports depend on several factors (such as physical, technical, physiological, psychological, cognitive, and morphological), advancing knowledge in this issue should consider a multidimensional approach.

In this context, the present Research Topic has attempted to extend knowledge on the factors affecting sport performance and recovery, emphasizing the use of novel strategies to alleviate potential carryover effects of fatigue. This Research Topic has tackled this theme with the contribution of 10 Original Research Articles and 2 Reviews. Nine of the Research Articles focused on soccer, and one on rink hockey. Differently, one Review focused on quantifying fatigue in rugby and one Narrative Review assessed the effect of cannabidiol supplementation on all athletes for improving recovery. Moreover, four articles have evaluated the change in performance related to different training approaches, external situation (COVID-19 lockdown), and players’ neuromuscular status, while eight papers have investigated the athletes’ recovery status in relationship with training methodologies and intensity, match and players’ characteristics, and drug supplementation effects. 

The detraining effect caused by COVID-19 outbreak was investigated by Souza and colleagues. In this study, they evaluated the effect of training suspension on physical performance in soccer players competing in LaLiga. In particular, they compared the running patterns before and after the lockdown period (8 weeks) reporting that the total running distance and the high-intensity running performance of professional soccer teams was maintained after the resumption of the competition. Interestingly, the number of substitutions and match duration significantly increased after the lockdown period compared to the previous season.

Two papers described the effect of different training programs on sport performance. Sariati et al. assessed the effect of a 6-week Change of Direction (CoD) training intervention on dynamic balance, horizontal jump, speed, and CoD with and without the ball in youth male soccer players with different levels of maturity status (measured as peak height velocity). They found that the CoD training program improved balance, horizontal jump, and CoD without the ball of the male preadolescent and adolescent soccer players. Interestingly, a greater improvement was detected in the post-peak height velocity players compared to the pre-peak height velocity ones. Hence, Sariati and colleagues suggested that the peak height velocity should be considered when programming CoD training for soccer players. Differently, Koral and colleagues investigated the effect of three different preseason training programs (i.e., plyometric, sprint interval, and small-sided games training) on recreationally trained soccer players’ performance (i.e., sprint ability, CoD, and maximal aerobic speed). In this study, the authors showed that the most effective training program was the sprint interval training, followed by the plyometric training, while the players that performed the small-side games training obtained the lowest performance improvement.

Pleša et al. investigated the association between bilateral deficit in the countermovement jump and sprint, bilateral and single-leg jump, and CoD in volleyball players. A small to moderate correlations of lower limb bilateral deficit with CoD, sprint ability, and jump performance were revealed, suggesting that these players’ performance characteristics should be useful in programming the amount of training load that each volleyball players should dedicate to unilateral lower-limbs training.

Within the present research topic, particular emphasis was also given to the study of recovery, as part of the complex training process. Trecroci et al. sought to establish the impact of two different post-match training interventions on the recovery timeframe of both perceptual (muscle soreness) and biochemical parameters (e.g., creatine kinase) after a match. In this study, the authors employed an active recovery (AR) or soccer-specific training sessions (SST) on the second day after the match. They observed a higher restoration of muscle soreness and creatine kinase in AR compared with SST within 72 h post-match. This result provides additional and novel data that may aid to improve the practitioners’ decision-making process when two consecutive games are played within 3 days. From a practical perspective, a low dose of high-intensity training session (i.e., AR) performed 48 h after the game may be less detrimental per se for subsequent exercise performance.

Silva et al. aimed to analyse variations (over 6 weeks) of short-duration maximal jumping performance in professional soccer players exposed to different accumulated training load and matches. The authors found that match participation was the main factor influencing countermovement jump (CMJ) performance. Specifically, it was observed that the sum of weekly training sessions loads of high metabolic load distance, accelerations/decelerations, and total distance covered by the players were the best predictors of the CMJ performance variation. This result provides coaches and practitioners with additional and extended knowledge on the importance of monitoring and managing GPS-based metrics linked to high-intensity demands activities (i.e., accelerations) weekly. This would help them to implement strategies to increase players’ readiness.

Fernàndez et al.  provided an integrative approach to external (based on a local positioning system) and internal load (perceived exertion) dynamics for monitoring fitness and fatigue status in elite rink hockey players during a standard microcycle. With this work the authors assessed the differences between training sessions and matches and the potential association between the external and internal load metrics (including also distance covered, accelerations/decelerations, and high-speed skating). It was found that the training sessions at three and two days from the nearest match occurred with the greatest external and internal load within the microcycle (also compared with the corresponding match loads) by exhibiting an inverted “U-shaped” load dynamic. Moreover, the authors reported moderate-to-large associations between volume-related variables (i.e., distance covered) and perceived exertion and low correlation between high-intensity-related (i.e., high-speed skating) variables and perceived exertion. This data concurs to deeply understand the load distribution (internal and external loads during trainings and the weekly match) within a regular elite rink hockey team microcycle, providing practical support for managing the weekly training program.

The review by Naughton et al. dealt with post-match fatigue and recovery in rugby players competing in different events (i.e., rugby league, rugby union, and rugby sevens). The authors’ intent was to better explore the recovery dynamics of neuromuscular (e.g., CMJ), biochemical (e.g., creatine kinase), and self-reported (e.g., muscle soreness) measures along with the association between match-related fatigue metrics due to collisions and high-intensity locomotor actions. Their findings revealed the presence of acute (up to 24 h post-match), residual (from 24 h to 72 h) and persistent (beyond 72 h) “windows of fatigue” in which players experience a progressive change in performance, biochemical, and subjective recovery. Moreover, the authors highlighted how such recovery time course strongly relates to the frequency and intensity of collisions during a match. Altogether, these findings shed a light on the importance of quantifying post-match recovery in rugby under a multidimensional perspective to embrace the aggregate match-related carryover effects of collisions and high-intensity locomotor actions. Rugby players (regardless of competitive events played) would likely benefit from sufficient time to recover and return to their pre-match level.

The narrative review by Rojas-Valverde focused on the potential role of cannabidiol (CBD) as an ergogenic aid to promote a better recovery between efforts of training sessions and competitions. The recent removal of CBD from the list of prohibited substances from the World Anti-Doping Agency has increased both its use in sport professionals and the study of its properties. Although the paucity of literature on this issue, CBD was demonstrated to have properties to boost exercise recovery as an anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, analgesic, anxiolytic, and pain reliever. These evidences support the potentiality of CBD to be used as a part of the strategies to improve the efficacy and efficiency of recovery processes during exercise and sport-related fatigue. However, considering also the lack of studies in elite athletes, the review emphasised the call of additional studies to explore the underlying physiological mechanisms related to the use of CBD in the field of sports science.

An experimental study proposed a novel questionnaire to assess the types of the recovery practices in team sport (Querido et al.). Although practices to mitigate fatigue and improve recovery are widely known, only few studies investigated the types of recovery methods used in team sports and the underlying reasons for these choices of medical and technical staff. The Authors of this study developed a valid and reliable online questionnaire to examine the practices adopted in the 72 h post-match in soccer teams. The questionnaire was proposed in Portuguese language, but it can be used as a basis for increasing the knowledge of the current recovery practices in team sports after appropriate validation in a specific language.

Ishida et al. investigated the seasonal changes in training load, neuromuscular performance, subjective recovery, and stress status, and examined the relationship between training load and neuromuscular changes in National Collegiate Athletic Association female soccer players. Long-term strategic training plans are necessary to maximize neuromuscular performance throughout the competitive season. The main findings showed that neuromuscular performance gradually increased from pre-season to the competitive period. This was accompanied by a decrement in training load metrics. Significant negative correlations were observed for weekly total distance with CMJ height and peak power, while positive correlations were observed player load and CMJ height. These findings highlighted the importance of quantifying the summer, pre-season, and in-season training load together with neuromuscular performance in female competitive soccer players.

The study by Bian et al. focused on a current hot topic within the sports-science literature (i.e., mental fatigue and physical performance). The negative effect of a mental fatiguing task on physical performance in soccer is well-established. However, most studies investigating the mental fatigue effect on physical performance utilized a computerized cognitive task for inducing mental fatigue, with poor ecological validity. In their study, the Authors aimed to propose a novel motor task requiring soccer-specific skills (i.e., 20-min repeated interval Loughborough Soccer Passing Test, LSPT) for inducing mental fatigue in soccer as compared to computerized cognitive task. The 20-min repeated interval LSPT, as a soccer-specific motor task, induced a subjective mental fatigue similar to the 20-min Stroop task. The mental fatigue induced by the repeated interval LSPT induced a similar detrimental effect as the 20-min Stroop task on cognitive and soccer-specific skill performance. These findings supported the use of 20-min repeated interval LSPT as an ecological task inducing mental fatigue in soccer.

In conclusion, the articles published within this Research Topic contributed to advance knowledge for a better understanding of the sport performance and recovery factors in team sports. Their findings highlighted the complexity behind the interaction of training, competition, performance, and recovery. We hope that this Research Topic will contribute to stimulate further research in this area. Future studies should further advance knowledge in sports performance and recovery topic by balancing from the strict scientific rigor of the experimental setting (considering internal and external validity) to the high applicability in team sports (helping practitioners to manage training load metrics) using a multidimensional approach. For example, within an ecological approach, further studies will have to focus on in-season training protocols to understand how different training strategies between multiple weekly matches may affect fatigue, by a combination of physiological and performance adaptations in the long term.  Finally, we thank all the Authors, Reviewers, and Editors for their precious contribution to the present Research Topic.

Author: Alessio Rossi 

Exploratory: Sport Data Science

Item in the Catalogue: 

https://data.d4science.org/ctlg/ResourceCatalogue/special_issue_frontiers_in_physiology_-_performance_and_recovery_in_team_sports_a_multidimensional_

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