How Far Do Soccer Players Run in a Game?

Michael Claunch

Stamina is extremely important in soccer, as the players are required to jog and sprint very frequently during a game, and they must remain fresh to the very end. It’s easy to underestimate how many miles soccer players run in a game, since most fans are focused on the ball and may easily miss a lot of background movement. Since in soccer the play is continuous and stoppage time is relatively limited, players in this sport are forced to be actively engaged for 90 minutes with very little downtime. It’s important to note that a large share of running occurs while the opponent has possession of the ball, even for players whose primary responsibility is on the offensive side.

To properly appreciate the type of effort that professional soccer players are expected to give on the field, we need to take a closer look at the numbers and compare the distances to those that are common in other sports.

What’s the average distance a soccer player runs in a game?

Estimating how far a soccer player runs in a game requires more than just guesswork since there are a lot of discontinuous bursts to account for. Some of the methods used for the quantification of player movement involve counting the number of steps or coding every observed action while watching a recording. Fortunately, thanks to GPS technology today, it’s possible to measure the distance traveled by each player during a soccer match with a high level of precision.

According to most calculations, adult male professional soccer players run between 6 and 8.5 miles in a typical game. It is conceivable that a handful of most mobile players could sometimes break the 10-mile threshold during 90 minutes of play. The average is believed to be slightly lower in women’s soccer, at around 5 miles per game. Since the youth game is not nearly as fast and competitive, junior players tend to run less than professionals, but still quite a bit.

As an illustration, here are the figures from the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The average for all teams for 10 players (goalkeepers excluded) was approximately 65 miles per team per game. When looking at individual teams, the distance ranged from 60 to 70 miles, which is exactly in line with the estimations presented above. This goes to show that the average distance run in a soccer game is mostly uniform and relatively independent from the formation or strategy the team is using.

Which positions in soccer run the most during a game?

Any soccer fan understands that the physical demands at each position are different and that some players move around much more than others. This is understandable since certain positions are more reliant on constant motion, while others are primarily tasked with occupying a specific area on the field. Goalkeepers are the most obvious example, as they rarely venture past their own penalty box and may not travel more than 2 or 3 miles in a single game.

Central defenders are also known to be very static, and the same can be said for the forwards to a lesser extent. Backs and defensive midfielders tend to be more mobile but still confined to certain parts of the field, while wings run considerably more and in longer bursts. Attacking midfielders rack up the most mileage in a game, as they often play on both halves and heavily rely on dynamic activity to create an advantage. There may be some exceptions based on the physical condition and age of certain players as well as the main tactical concepts the team utilizes, but the position is the best predictor of the total distance covered in a game. 

Does soccer involve more running than other sports?

There are a lot of debates about the difficulty of playing various sports, and comparing the average distance a typical player runs in a single game is a good way to take the debate to more objective grounds. If we look at how far soccer players run in a game compared to other athletes competing in team sports, it quickly becomes apparent they are having a very difficult job.

The average distance that a professional American football player runs in a game is just 1.25 miles, while in basketball, this number is around 2.5 miles per game. Tennis players accumulate approximately 3 miles in a typical match, which is still less than half than in soccer. This is not a surprise, considering the large dimensions of the soccer field and the fact that only a few substitutions are made in a game. Hence, if you are curious about which sports players run the most distance, soccer is definitely one of the strongest candidates for this title.

Is it more important to run fast or to keep running until the end?

Running may be constant activity on the soccer field, but the intensity greatly varies from one minute to the next. Only a fraction of the total distance is covered at full speed, but those sprints can be decisive for creating goal chances or making a key defensive play. On the other hand, speedy players who are always on the move are more likely to run out of gas before the end. That’s why it makes sense to ask whether the speed is more important than endurance and which trait should players work on more. 

The pace of play usually increases in the second half, and the last few minutes of a close game can become quite frantic. Thus, the value of speed is the greatest during the period when most players are getting increasingly tired. While some teams may bring in a dynamo off the bench specifically to exploit the slower defense, in general, the players are required to preserve strength for the final moments. Endurance becomes even more of a factor if the game goes into overtime, and the team with fresher legs will often prevail in such instances.

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