What is the true definition of match fitness?

The world is going through a difficult period with the Coronavirus pandemic badly affecting every aspect of human life. Almost all major world sporting events were canceled after seeing the incredible rise of new virus cases. But now that some professional leagues like the Bundesliga have restarted, there is hope that more sports leagues will follow suit and resume play.

For sportsmen, it would be difficult to regain their fitness. After all, they will all be returning to the pitch after a long lay-off. They might have been doing regular exercises at home but will that be sufficient to play at the big level again?

An ordinary fan’s view of match fitness is more about the physical aspect. He may imagine fitness as something gained through relentless exercises and work-outs. However, professional players have a different view of the matter; they consider match fitness to be more than merely running long distances.

For them, being mentally prepared is as essential to fitness as the physical aspect of it. West Ham defender Ryan Fredericks thinks that playing few minutes in a big, professional match is a hundred times more difficult than the exercises one does while training.

“The difference is huge,” he says. “You can spend as long as you want – years, even – running up and down the pitch or running around cones, but 10 minutes in a Premier League match is 100 times harder than any of that.

“You can’t fake anything on a Premier League pitch. You have to react to so many things – mentally, as well. If you get caught out, you’re stuck.”

Highly professional athletes have gyms built into their homes. They have personal trainers to help them work out while they also make use of high-class equipment. Maintaining perfect base fitness levels is necessary for every professional athlete.

Fans easily relate to the physical aspects of fitness. They think that it is more about sprints, distances covered and the number of accelerations, etc. The mental aspect of fitness is more difficult to understand, but it is just as important for players to play well.

Richard Collinge, who is the Head of Medical Services at West Ham, says that there are different aspects to fitness and that feeling psychologically ready is very important for a player. According to Collinge, the mental and physical aspects of fitness have to match, otherwise a player will not feel ready to play.

While Dan Garner, who coached UFC champions Ronda Rousey, considers match fitness to be an athlete’s preparedness on three different levels- mental, emotional, and physical. 

“I consider it a tripod of performance – physical, mental and emotional,” he says.

“What happens if one leg of a tripod is knocked out? It collapses. In order to determine whether someone is actually ready, they would need to be mentally, emotionally and physically ready.”

According to Fredericks, confidence is very important for fitness, and it comes after playing a few training-ground games. This is the reason that no one plays directly in the Premier League after he has been out for a long time.

The same rule applies to cricket, where coaches do not allow players to go straight to an international game. Instead, these players start with warm-up matches or franchise games and are only allowed to play in an international match after they are deemed to be fit.  

However, there are former famous cricketers like Kevin Pietersen who felt that practice sessions were more useful for him than warm-up games.