Changing the spatial characteristics of a sporting environment may change the demands on the athlete, and potentially influence the outcome of the competition. Specific reduced competition size training drills (i.e. small-sided games in soccer) have long been utilized as a training means in other sports.
Researchers in Italy compared the physiological (heart rate, blood lactate) and psychological (mood states questionnaire, RPE) responses of match-simulation sparring sessions between 24 competitive junior taekwondo athletes, in a standard 8x8m fighting area to 6x6m and 4x4m fighting areas. A second aspect of the study compared the same responses in matches with 1 sparring partner compared to alternating partners.
Although heart rate was lower in the 2-1 condition, blood lactate levels were higher. These physiological measures were not, however, dependent on fight area size.
Scores of tension and fatigue were higher for 6 × 6 m compared with 8 × 8 m, and anger was higher in 6 × 6 m and 8 × 8 m compared with 4 × 4 m.
Coaches can utilise the differences in response to both training area and partner change to elicit a different physiological response, or to help recreate a similar mood state to that encountered in competition.