Sunday, January 3, 2016

Time to Scrap the 2.4 Test

Welcome to 2016! Starting January, the S.League will be going into preseason. For the players, it means passing the dreaded 2.4km test. This year, the passing time for the 2.4 has been reduced from 9min 45sec to 9min 30sec. But is the 2.4 even useful? And why are we doing it year after year? Here are 3 reasons why the 2.4 should be scrapped for good. 

1. The game of football is about football.

Standardised testing has an obvious purpose in the army. It allows the armed forces to keep track of troop's physical fitness and maintain a minimum standard across the board. But the S.League is not Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), and 20 players in a team is a far cry from the size of an SAF company.

Let us not forget the very basic fact that football is about football. There is not a single measurable factor that determines a team's success, and footballing talent is next to impossible to quantify. The job of a footballer is to outplay, outwit and win. A fitter footballer is not a better footballer, a better footballer is a better footballer.

It takes a combination of physical, mental and technical abilities to achieve that. Football is not a game which victory is determined by aerobic fitness alone. The 2.4 is only one test in a sport that requires one to excel in more than just a single area of fitness. The current implementation of the 2.4 test greatly limits player selection and further choke our talent pool. 

Perhaps Lim Chin can gather a group of marathoners and place them in a football team. They would ace the 2.4, but they would not be playing football, neither will they be winning. Remember, for footballers, they need to be fit for football, not plain fit, and definitely not just aerobically fit.

2. Interfering with Pre-Season

The job of a head coach is to assemble the best team and win games. The job of a strength coach is to prepare the players to their physical best. The most important period of time for both coaches is the pre-season. This is the time when the football coach irons out tactics and finalises his first eleven. The strength coach works to the requirements of the head coach to sharpen the physical abilities of players to win at football. At all time, all other coaches should be working towards the requirements of the head coach.

But here in the S.League, the association says, "No pass, no play." And this means instead of focusing on preparing the players for the game of football, we are preparing them for a long distance running. Here in Singapore, the league can interfere with both team preparation and players selection.

If a player performed unfavorably in an aerobic test. The coach would perhaps work with the strength coach to improve said player's aerobic capacity, while keeping everything else on track. But in the S.League, due to the very fact that a player's contract can and will be revoked in the event that he fails the 2.4, the team goes into panic mode to ensure every player passes the 2.4. It's time to throw out the kitchen sink, because there won't even be a kitchen left when the player's contract is revoked.

And thus, whatever plans that the coaches may have is gone. Perhaps the preseason plan for player A is to increases his muscular strength and sprinting ability. But since he cannot pass the 2.4, instead of working on what is his clear weakness and then getting him to be football fit, all plans are thrown out the window and he ends up doing laps just to pass the 2.4.

3. It does not Improve the Standard of the League

The question is: have the S.League and Singapore football improved as a whole since the implementation of the bleep test and then the 2.4? The answer is a resounding NO. We have fallen to new lows in the FIFA World rankings, our clubs are not performing at the regional level, and attendance just keeps dropping. Why should we keep a test that had failed its purpose?

The S.League justified the usage of the 2.4 test by pointing out that the aerobic fitness of local players "is still far short of the standard set in the elite global leagues." Perhaps we should implement minimum height and weight too? For our players too, fall short in these aspects! 

To be frank, players should not have issues passing the 2.4. But the 2.4 and its passing criteria has became a double edged sword. While less aerobically fit players would be fighting to pass the test, the fitter ones can now sit on their bottoms and forget about progress as they have reached minimum standard.

Fitness testing is a great tool, because they serve to give coaches a gauge of the physical fitness of their players. Coaches can use the results as a gauge to confirm a player's deficit in the various aspects of fitness, to track improvement over time and even to detect and prevent overtraining. Currently, the 2.4 is merely a pass/fail test taken before the start of the season to determine whether a player is even allowed onto the playing field. It has failed its original purpose of "improving the standard of the league" and serve merely as an "aspiration to reach global standard."

Parting Notes

If the league is serious about improving fitness of players, a battery of test should be implemented and conducted throughout the year for the coaches to evaluate their players with. Clubs should also be required to engage qualified strength and conditioning coaches to work with the players daily. 

To truly improve the standard of the league, we need to start even before players turn professional and join the league. In a bid to increase the educational level of Singaporeans, the government recruited more qualified teachers and have built better facilities in schools to prepare Singaporeans for the workforce.

For the standard of the league to rise, we need better coaches and facilities from the ground up. By training and producing a good crop of youth players who enjoy their football, they will eventually funnel into a group of talented players who can compete at the highest level in the S.League and beyond. 

Written by our contributor Lin Yimian, CSCS