The influence of thermal stress on the physical and technical activities of soccer players: lessons from the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia
The present study attempts to assess changes in soccer players' physical and technical activity profiles due to thermal stress, measured with the Universal Thermal Climate Index (UTCI), in training centres and during matches of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. The study also verifies the theoretical models of soccer players' physiological parameters. The study sample consisted of 945 observations of 340 players of national teams taking part in the World Cup in Russia. The measured variables included physical activities: total distance covered, distances covered with an intensity of 20-25 km/h, number of sprints; technical activities: number of shots, number of passes, pass accuracy and physiological indicators: evaporative water loss and heart rate. In addition, the final ranking places of each national team were also used in the study. The UTCI was calculated based on meteorological data recorded at training centres and during matches. The UTCI records were then classified into two ranges: NTS—no thermal stress (UTCI 9-26 °C) and TS—thermal stress (UTCI > 26 °C). Climatic conditions at soccer training centres assessed as involving "no thermal stress" are found to be more beneficial for increasing the total distance covered and the number of sprints performed by players during a match. The theoretical models for determining soccer players' physiological parameters used in the study reduce the players' heart rate effort and evaporative water loss, which is in line with findings in studies by other authors. The climatic conditions at soccer training centres and during tournament matches should be taken into account in planning preparations for future World Cup tournaments, especially those in hotter countries.