Fatigue and Performance

From a general perspective, fatigue can be defined as “an acute impairment of performance that includes both an increase in the perceived effort to exert a desired force or power and/or any reduction in the ability to exert maximal muscle force or power” (Gandevia, 2001). Additionally, Nedelec, McCall, Carling, Legall, Berthoin, and Dupont (2012) defined fatigue as “any decline in muscle performance associated with muscle activity.” When discussing the concept of fatigue, there are two sub-classifications including central (central nervous system) and peripheral fatigue (muscle).

The classification can be “central when the origin is proximal and / or peripheral when the origin is distal to the neuromuscular junction (Gandevia, 2001). Ermanno Rampinini, Andrea Bosio, and Ivan Ferraresi (2011) reported that central fatigue appears to be the main cause of the reduction in maximal muscular contractions and sprint ability while peripheral fatigue is more related to muscle soreness, which can be linked to muscle damage and inflammation.

Although central and peripheral fatigue have different classifications (brain and muscles), it appears coaches should think of the two categorizations synergistically. Recently on Twitter, renowned sports scientist, Dr. John Sullivan tweeted, “Everything is about energy management. The brain protects its energy at all costs. What you do with it matters” (Sullivan, 2016). The idea is that if a player does not appropriately rehydrate and refuel in between games (to remove peripheral fatigue), then the brain (central nervous system) will not receive the correct signals to fire optimally. Conversely, if the player is appropriately rested and prepared for each match (tactically and physically), then the buffering zone between performance and the onset of fatigue (both central and peripheral) can increase.

In a soccer context, it appears to be extremely difficult for players execute technical-tactical plays in a fatigued state. In an interview last year, Raymond Verheijen said, “When you accumulate fatigue your nervous system becomes slower and signal from the brain to your muscles arrives later” (Davies, 2015). The idea is that if a player is fatigued, the executions of technical plays such as dribbling moves and long range passes can be impaired.

Due to the tactical nature of soccer, coaches must be mindful of the psychological demands of the game. With regards to the nonlinear occurrences that appear throughout a game, all eleven players must remain completely concentrated for the entire duration of the match, which is exhausting (mental fatigue). Oliveira in Tamarit (2014) said, “Concentration sometimes is more exhausting than the game itself, in physiological terms, that is why what leads to tiredness is concentration itself.” The idea is that if the players are not appropriately trained to meet the psychological demands of competition, the onset of fatigue will occur more quickly, and subsequently decrease performance.

There is no question that remaining fully concentrated for ninety minutes or more is an extremely challenging task, however, coaches can help their players overcome their fatigue through motivation. Xavier Tamarit (2014) said, “Motivation is highly related to fatigue. If players are motivated, fatigue can be overcome.” For a practical example, in the 2009 Champions League Semi-Final between FC Barcelona and Chelsea, Andreas Iniesta scored the game winning goal in stoppage time when Barcelona were playing with 10 men. When reflecting on his historic goal, Iniesta said, “I struck it with all my soul and it went in perfectly” (Leong, 2009). In that moment, the motivation Iniesta had to advance to the Champions League Final was too strong for any amount of mental or peripheral fatigue to impair the shot.

By understanding fatigue, coaches can play a crucial role in helping their players to delay the onset of fatigue, and subsequently raise their performance levels.


Davies, J. (2015). Raymond Verheijen – Dispelling the Myths of Soccer Fitness. Retrieved June 30, 2016, from http://www.mockingbirdsoccer.net/News/TabId/387/ArtMID/1379/ArticleID/4092/Raymond-Verheijen-–-Dispelling-the-Myths-of-Soccer-Fitness.aspx

Gandevia, S.C., 2001. Spinal and supraspinal factors in human muscle fatigue. Physiol Rev, 81 (4), pp. 1725-89.

Long, K. (2009). Barcelona Hero Andres Iniesta In Raptures After Breaking Chelsea Hearts - Goal.com. Retrieved June 30, 2016, from http://www.goal.com/en/news/1716/champions-league/2009/05/07/1250605/barcelona-hero-andres-iniesta-in-raptures-after-breaking-chelsea-

Nédélec, M., McCall, A., Carling, C., Legall, F., Berthoin, S., & Dupont, G. (2012). Recovery in Soccer: Part I - Post-Match Fatigue and Time Course of Recovery. Sports Medicine, 42(12), 997-1015.

Rampinini, E., Bosio, A., Ferraresi, I., Petruolo, A., Morelli, A., & Sassi, A. (n.d). Match-Related Fatigue in Soccer Players. Medicine And Science In Sports And Exercise, 43(11), 2161-2170.

Sullivan, D. J. (2016). #TheBrainAlwaysWins. Retrieved June 30, 2016, from https://twitter.com/BrainAlwaysWins/status/745971679466242048

Tamarit, X. (2014). What is Tactical Periodization? Bennion Kearny Limited.

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