He’s fit…but not ‘match fit’.
How many times have you heard someone say of a player…..He’s fit, but he’s not match fit.?
What does it mean? How can we be sure that a player is match fit? What can we do to get players match fit?
Match fitness can only come through playing games. Unfortunately, some have taken this to mean that a player needs to wait for a competitive game against another team before he can work on his match fitness. This is not true.
As I have stated already, the only way to get match fit is to play games. If the right game is played in training then the coach can not only bring a player up to speed in terms of match fitness but can also set the limits for all players.
You see, match fitness is about how quickly a player can make a decision, how well he can react to a situation, how aware he is of the play around him. It has to be founded on physical fitness [particularly sharpness] but it is a ‘brain’ thing more than anything else.
When you hear people say that a player can’t cope with the speed of the game, it doesn’t mean that he cannot run as fast as the other players. It means his thinking; his reactions and his awareness are not as sharp as they should be.
So….what can coaches do?
The best games are based on the clock. Try playing a game, with normal rules except for the condition which allows each player a maximum of 3 seconds on the ball. Just count 1, 2, and 3 when a player is in possession. This is better than calling for one toe-tap and/or one bounce. The best way to play this is to use one coach to referee and another to run the 3 second rule and blow only when this is broken.
If players really respond, cut it to 2 seconds. You will really only be able to do this after a number of weeks working on the former.
Another way to use the clock is to decide on a certain number of seconds during which a team may score. Imagine the keeper kicks the ball out and a player gathers the ball at midfield. The coach/referee calls out a countdown……10, 9, 8, 7 etc. The team must shoot for a score before 0 is reached. If the opposition wins the ball, the coach decides on the number from which to start the countdown [e.g. the opposition wins the ball only 45m from the goal. The coach needs to speed up their play, so he begins the countdown from 5.]
There are many modifications to such games…all based on working towards match fitness at speeds where opponents cannot hope to compete.

He’s fit…but not ‘match fit’.