13 July 2020 – Thrilling matches, full stadiums and more than a billion television viewers – the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019™ marked a milestone in the development of women’s football. It set new standards, not only in the technical, tactical and commercial areas, but also in terms of the physical requirements of the game.
- FIFA publishes the Physical Analysis of the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™
- The demands increased immensely from Canada 2015 to France 2019
- There was more running and efforts in Zone 5 from the group stage to the knockout rounds in France, with England and the USA leading way among semi-finalists
In recognition of the importance of the physical component as a key to in-game success, FIFA has produced the Physical Analysis of the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™ in collaboration with scientists Dr Paul Bradley, a Reader in Sports Performance at Liverpool John Moores University and a Consultant for FC Barcelona, and Dawn Scott, High Performance Coach for the U.S. Women’s National Team from 2010 to 2019 and now Senior Women’s Physical Performance Manager for the English Women’s National Team.
The data collected shows that the physical demands of women’s football have increased in recent years and that systematic training models and programmes are necessary to improve the physical status of female players worldwide and further increase the level and intensity of the game.
“A really granular overview of the physical demands of elite women’s football will allow each nation to benchmark themselves against each other. This will help the coach to design conditioning drills to enable players to be fully prepared in relation to performance, but more so in relation to mitigating the risk of injury,” says Paul Bradley on the importance of scientific research of this type for the development of the women’s game.
For the analysis, 436 players from 24 countries were recorded at the tournament and their activities were coded in the following speed zones, which had been tailored to the women’s game according to the literature: Zone 1 (0-7km/h), Zone 2 (7-13km/h), Zone 3 (13-19km/h), Zone 4 (19-23km/h) and Zone 5 (>23km/h).
“The first surprising outcome was the sheer magnitude of the change in demands from the Women’s World Cup 2015 in Canada compared to the 2019 tournament in France – especially given there was very little change in the demands between the 2011 and 2015 competitions,” says Bradley.
“When we observed that intense running had increased across various playing positions by approximately 16-32 per cent from Canada 2015 to France 2019, it was a clear confirmation of the game’s evolution. The second unique outcome of the research was the realisation that ‘context is king’ when interpreting the physical demands of women’s football. For instance, the same player in two separate matches would have vastly different demands based on the context of the game (e.g. the opposition standard, score, tactics and system employed).”
Did you know?
- Although the average total distance at the 2015 and 2019 tournaments was comparable, during the 2019 tournament, on average, teams completed slightly less lower-speed running (<13km/h) per match and 5 per cent, 15 per cent and 29 per cent more distance in zones 3, 4 and 5 respectively.
- In 2019, there was an increase in running and efforts in Zone 5 from the group stage to the knockout rounds, which reflects an increase in the pace of the games in the later stages of the competition, contested by the higher-ranked teams, and the increased physical load required in order for players to be successful.
- Where just the four semi-finalists are concerned, looking at the average distance at >19km/h, England (6,975m) – followed by the USA (6,795m) – covered the highest amount in 2019; England (1,023m; 17 per cent) also had the biggest increase from 2015.
- All playing positions covered slightly more total distance at France 2019 than at Canada 2015.
- More actions were performed in zones 3-5 at France 2019 than at Canada 2015. Zone 5 distance was 18.6-47.3 per cent higher in France than in Canada across positions, although this was especially evident for wide midfielders.
Dawn Scott explains: “In comparing the 2015 and 2019 tournament data, it is evident that there was more distance completed at the higher speeds in 2019 and that the range of high-speed distance completed by teams (i.e. the difference between how much such distance the top and bottom teams covered) was reduced. This means that some of the lower-ranked teams completed significantly more higher-intensity activity in 2019 compared to 2015, which could be reflective of higher fitness levels.”
The analysis provides an excellent overview of where the top women’s teams in the world stand in terms of their physical fitness and the demands of the game. An understanding of the demands of match play is vital to develop systematic game preparation that reflects and is specific to the physical loads players will complete during games. In conjunction with the technical, tactical and psychological preparation of players, specialised physical preparation can make the difference in success at the elite level.
In Scott’s words, “An integrated and cohesive medical and physical-performance team is essential for preparing players, as ultimately, the aim is to maximise player availability for the coaches by optimising physical performance, whilst minimising injury risk. A big part of this is the education of the players, especially in terms of the physical demands of their position on the pitch, first and foremost, and what it takes to be physically prepared to perform in that position.”
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