How Length of Round, Period, or Play Can Change a Sport

Ever wonder how soccer would be different if periods were shorter? Or what if an MMA fight were two rounds longer? How does this affect both the athlete and the game?

When you grow up with sports, either playing them or watching them, you never question some parts of the game. You think the game will never change, or more likely, you don’t think about the game in that way at all. And then something comes along that changes your perspective on things. For me that was my introduction to mixed martial arts (MMA). I remember when MMA went from just one round with no time limit, to a single long round with perhaps an overtime round, and then to 3 rounds of 5 minutes. And it’s still changing. Recently a new rule was adopted in which main event fights may be the same length as title fights, at 5 rounds of 5 minutes.

It’s a great thing to witness the birth of a sport. When it changes so dramatically in such a short period of time, it gives you a new perspective on all sports. Perhaps every sport you watch or play should be longer. Perhaps it should be shorter. It’s hard to say until you take a hard look at the effects that changing sport periods has on the game itself. A recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning covered one aspect of that topic.

In the study, researchers looked at variable lengths of play for soccer. In many ball sports, not only are periods of a given length but players can also be swapped out when needed. This adds an extra dynamic to which coaches need to pay close attention. However, in this study, the soccer players were made to remain in their test games for the entirety of each period. They did a single 16-minute period, two periods of 8 minutes with a 2-minute rest, and four periods of 4 minutes with a 1-minute rest. The researchers looked at several variables influencing athleticism during the game play.

Now, I have no doubt you can guess the results. The players were faster in the beginning of each test, and the players with shorter intervals were faster, even at the end, than players who had only one period. What’s important here is how to use these results to further our sporting endeavors.

Just because athleticism increases as period length decreases, this doesn’t mean all sports should have very short periods. An athlete needs sufficient time to get the job done, so there’s a balance that needs to be achieved to create the greatest experience for both athlete and fan. As mentioned prior, in many ball sports this consideration can be made immediately. A coach can have at least some control over how long a player is on the field, and should allow players to rest when possible to improve their performance.

For many other relatively new sports, or new organizations controlling more traditional sports, we can try to keep this facet of athletics in mind and strive for an optimal period length. There was, and for some people still is, resistance to the idea of changing round length in MMA. Many purists believe there should be no time limit, even though adding rounds greatly improved the sport. And I say that understanding the appeal of no time limits, but let’s be honest, MMA is better with rounds for everyone – athletes and spectators.

How about for the sports you like to watch or play? Are the periods, rounds, halves, etc. the right length or should they change?


1. David Casamichana, et. al., “Influence of Different Training Regimes on Physical and Physiological Demands During Small-Sided Soccer Games: Continuous vs. Intermittent Format,” Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 27(3): 690–697, 2013

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