Peak match acceleration demands differentiate between elite youth and professional football players
Youth footballers need to be developed to meet the technical, tactical, and physical demands of professional level competition, ensuring that the transition between competition levels is successful. To quantify the physical demands, peak match intensities have been measured across football competition tiers, with team formations and tactical approaches shown to influence these physical demands. To date, no research has directly compared the physical demands of elite youth and professional footballers from a single club utilising common formations and tactical approaches. The current study quantified the total match and peak match running demands of youth and professional footballers from a single Australian A-League club. GPS data were collected across a single season from both a professional (n = 19; total observations = 199; mean ± SD; 26.7 ± 4.0 years) and elite youth (n = 21; total observations = 59; 17.9 ± 1.3 years) team. Total match demands and peak match running demands (1-10 min) were quantified for measures of total distance, high-speed distance [>19.8 km·h-1] and average acceleration. Linear mixed models and effect sizes identified differences between competition levels. No differences existed between competition levels for any total match physical performance metric. Peak total and high-speed distances demands were similar between competitions for all moving average durations. Interestingly, peak average acceleration demands were lower (SMD = 0.63-0.69) in the youth players across all moving average durations. The data suggest that the development of acceleration and repeat effort capacities is crucial in youth players for them to transition into professional competition.