Background: Short-sprint (≤ 20 m) performance is an important quality for success in the football codes. Therefore, developing an evidence base for understanding training methods to enhance short-sprint performance is key for practitioners. However, current systematic reviews are limited by (1) a lack of focus on football code athletes, (2) a lack of consideration of all training modalities and (3) a failure to account for the normal training practices undertaken by intervention groups within their analysis. Therefore, this review aimed to (1) conduct a systematic review of the scientific literature evaluating training interventions upon short-sprint performance within football code athletes, (2) undertake a meta-analysis to assess the magnitude of change of sport-sprint performance following training interventions and (3) identify how moderator variables affect the training response.
Methods: A systematic search of electronic databases was conducted. A random-effects meta-analysis was performed to establish standardised mean difference with 95% confidence intervals. This identified the magnitude and direction of the individual training effects of intervention subgroups (primary, secondary, combined-specific, tertiary and combined training methods) on short-sprint performance while considering moderator variables (i.e., football code, sex, age, playing standard, phase of season).
Results: 121 studies met the inclusion criteria, totalling 3419 athletes. Significant improvements (small-large) were found between pre- and post-training in short-sprint performance for the combined, secondary, tertiary and combined-specific training methods. No significant effect was found for primary or sport only training. No individual mode was found to be the most effective. Between-subgroup analysis identified that football code, age, playing standard and phase of season all moderated the overall magnitude of training effects.
Conclusions: This review provides the largest systematic review and meta-analysis of short-sprint performance development methods and the only one to assess football code athletes exclusively. Practitioners can apply combined, secondary and tertiary training methods to improve short-sprint performance within football code athletes. The application of sport only and primary methods does not appear to improve short-sprint performance. Regardless of the population characteristics, short-sprint performance can be enhanced by increasing either or both the magnitude and the orientation of force an athlete can generate in the sprinting action.
Trial registration: OSF registration https://osf.io/kshqn/ .