Football Manager models fitness as a cycle of activities that need to be managed to get the optimum performance out of your playing squad. This is essentially a balancing act of tactical instruction, team selection, squad rotation, training schedules and rest. Regardless of the quality of the players at you disposal you can ensure that you players will achieve a greater consistency of performance by managing this cycle.
This introductory article introduces the key concepts of fitness management and aims to provide a better understanding of fitness cycle modelled in Football Manager.
Condition is the main indicator given to a manager to assess a players current fitness levels. Condition will decrease throughout games. Certain instructions can cause a players condition to decrease at a faster rate as can the state of the pitch and the weather, especially if the player in question has a low stamina rating.
In order for a player to be at their best, they need to be match fit. Match practice is gained by minutes on the pitch and subsequently lost by a lack of competitive football.
There are two main situations that involve the need for building up match practice. Firstly pre-season where a few friendly games will allow your players to regain sharpness after their break. The second is when a player is coming back after a long lay-off through injury. Use reserve games to allow the player to gain some match practice before putting them back in the first team where it counts. If you fail to do this it is possible that the player in question will lose form and possibly morale due to not being sharp enough to play to their best. A reserve match or two will allow the player to gain match fitness in a less important environment and hopefully get the bonus of a morale boost due to a good performance against lower quality opposition.
Fatigue is increased by playing in competitive matches and can be decreased by resting a player from a match or increased physical training. Another reason why pre season training is a good idea is the increased physical exercise builds up a resistance to fatigue meaning a good pre-season will see your players last longer when the matches start coming thick and fast. Sending players on holiday when they are are fatigued will see them recover, but this will be valuable time lost developing. Burning out potential stars should be avoided. Players with a high natural fitness will be more resistant to fatigue.
Before playing competitive football it is important that a player is match fit. Match fitness is gained through physical training, but this also has the effect of decreasing the condition of a player. Too much physical training will see not recover between match and will therefore suffer as a result. Try to balance physical training between allowing players to maintain fitness levels throughout the season. Too little and the player will not perform to their best due to lack of fitness, to much and they will be not perform due to tiredness.
Injuries are a fact of life, however there are several things as a manager that you can do to minimise injuries. Injuries happen mainly whilst a player is training or during a match. Training injuries are unfortunate, but can be minimised by devising sensible training regimes that are not too strenuous. Injuries also occur during matches. These can be minimised through tactical choices and team selection. Lower condition means that a player is more susceptible to injury, but also look to see who your players are matched up against. Mismatches in strength based physical attributes such set alarm bells ringing. In these situations consider playing someone who is much less of a target or setting your player to easy tackling. Condition sapping instructions should be only be given to players who have the stamina and work rate to carry them out.
For me training improvement is a secondary concern, as if you get the balance wrong in the fitness side you will find that player will not improve anyway. A sign that you have the balance right in fitness is your players condition should always be 100% before a match and that you players are not lacking fitness.
Ensuring your squad are ready for action is just another in a long list of responsibilities of a football manager. Fitness management is so much more than balancing fitness based attribute increase verses risk of injury. Hopefully this short article identifies some of the key consideration in what I feel is an underrated and perhaps misunderstood aspect of the game.