In my career, I played 11 years in three leagues which have very short seasons (about 3 months - 16 games). By the end of every season, I distinctly remember being exhausted physically and mentally, and in desperate need of a good rest period.
In at least 5 of those 11 years, I’ve experienced what I like to call the “Mid-Season Fitness Panic”, for lack of a better term. This is the point around 8 – 10 weeks into the season where typically, if things aren’t going well for the team, the coach decides it is because the team is unfit.
This can be an understandable conclusion if the team is consistently conceding goals in the final minutes of games, or not playing with a high enough tempo. But typically, the solution that my coaches came up with only exacerbated the symptoms, primarily because they hadn’t identified real problem.
Two months into the season, with a team that is training consistently and playing games, there is a high probability that the team IS fit. The body will have compensated for the demands placed upon it, so unless your games are played at a snails pace, or your training sessions only consist of set pieces, your team is most likely fit.
The real issue could be that your team is not FRESH.
Think of fitness as the player’s gas tank, and freshness as the amount of gas in the tank. It doesn’t matter how great the capacity to hold gas is (fitness), if there’s no gas in the tank (freshness), the engine simply won’t run!
I believe the reason why coaches tend to misdiagnose this problem is because the symptoms of a team being unfit and not fresh are very similar, and because regaining fitness requires players to rest, coaches are more inclined to work their players harder, especially if results haven’t gone to plan thus far.
If you’ve been using SoccerPulse or another monitoring device, some other ways you can look for lack of freshness are if players are having difficultly sleeping (4+ on SoccerPulse), or are taking 3-4 days to recover from a game.
This could mean that while they have the capacity to work, they’re body is unable to make all the repairs required in the time that it has available.
If you believe that your team is suffering from a lack of freshness, I do have some suggestions which don't require giving extended time off to your players, although that is always an option.
Heading into the 2nd half of these short seasons, sometimes less is more. Consider condensing your training sessions from 90 minutes to 75, or from 75 to 60. This way, you can maintain the intensity, but it will reduce the training load that you place on your players.
Reducing the training load by lowering volume will allow your players more time to recover, and also help them to peak as they head towards the most important time of the season, tournament time.