After years of watching my daughter sprint up and down the soccer field, I began to wonder how many miles her little legs ran in a game. I found it difficult to measure with all the sprints and long runs down the field, but I guessed it was a mile or so.
Nope. Google confirmed that my guess was way too low. Research shows that professional soccer players run an average of 6-7 miles per game. Um, what? Now, my daughter is far from a professional soccer player, but I was blown away by that stat.
As someone who has run a marathon, I can understand and appreciate the stamina required to cover so much ground. Soccer is more than just a game of skill, but also a test of endurance and determination.
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Why does it matter how many miles soccer players run in a game?
Besides random trivia night knowledge, why does it matter how much a soccer player runs in a game? It matters because athlete mileage plays into the strategy of the game. By tracking the distance covered by a player during the game, a coach can make informed decisions around when to rotate players. This is essential for optimizing overall team speed and performance and for preventing individual fatigue and injury.
What factors influence how far soccer players run?
If you’ve ever watched a soccer game (lacrosse and basketball too), you’ll notice that some teams pressure their opponents more than others. By aggressively attacking the ball and constantly pressing opponents, these teams have more opportunities to score. Constant pressure can be effective, but it also tires players out.
A player’s position also influences how much distance he or she covers in a game. I’ll explain more in the next section, but here’s my one pager on soccer positions.
What positions cover the most distance?
It’s no surprise that not all positions are created equal. Midfielders, for example, are involved in both attacking and defensive plays, and therefore tend to cover the most ground compared to their teammates. Their role requires them to constantly transition between offense and defense.
Forwards also rack up mileage as they move across the field, making runs to receive passes and pressuring the opposition’s defense.
Defenders, particularly full-backs, cover a considerable amount of ground as well because they provide defensive cover, make overlapping runs, and attack down the sidelines.
Goalkeepers and central defenders, however, cover relatively shorter distances. Goalkeepers primarily guard the goal and organize the defense while central defenders have a more centralized position and cover less ground compared to their teammates.
How do you track player distance?
For youth soccer, some clubs use video analysis to manually track player movements and thus measure distance covered. In professional soccer, players may wear small GPS devices that track their movements and provide real-time data on distance covered and other performance metrics. Coaches then analyze this data and use it as part of their substitution strategy.
How can a player improve endurance and mileage?
Tracking player distance is interesting, but what athletes really care about (both young players and professionals) is how they can increase their endurance and stamina on the field. The ability to outlast their opponents is what gives them an advantage on the field. To do this, players should focus on three key aspects: 1. Cardiovascular training 2. Strength and conditioning exercises and 3. Tactical awareness.
- Cardiovascular training– It’s not rocket science that long-distance running and interval training help improve aerobic capacity and stamina. Since the dawn of time in those middle school PE classes, coaches teach athletes that the more you expand your lung capacity, the longer you can sustain high-intensity efforts. This training also reduces fatigue and increases your ability to cover more ground during a game. Alternating between long distance runs and interval drills with cones and ladders is a good way to increase stamina.
- Strength and conditioning exercises– Have you ever seen the size of a professional soccer player’s quads? Impressive. It’s no wonder they can kick the ball nearly the length of the field! Weightlifting, plyometrics, and circuit training enhance muscular endurance and power and aid in increasing endurance and stamina.
- Tactical awareness and positioning– This last aspect is key. Players who have a good understanding of the game can anticipate movements, make smart runs, and position themselves effectively on the field. This allows them to be more efficient in their movements and cover ground strategically. Why run in a zigzag pattern that will tire you out when you can simply run straight to where the ball is being passed?
The incredible physical demands of soccer
While I knew soccer players were in great shape, I had no idea just how fit they were. To be able to run 6-7 miles during a single game is truly astonishing. It gave me an added appreciation for the game and my daughter’s stamina. Whether she continues with soccer throughout high school or switches to another sport, I know her speed, agility, and endurance from soccer will set her up for success.
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