Any game of soccer involves most outfield players doing quite a lot of running to keep up with play. So we take a look at the figures showing the average distance run in a soccer game – some of the stats might surprise you!
How long would it take you to run or walk 12 kilometers – roughly seven-and-a-half miles? Could you do it in 90 minutes?
If so, you could say that you’re fit enough to be a pro soccer player – because statistics collected over recent seasons from some of the top leagues around the world suggest that between six and seven miles is a very respectable average distance run in a soccer game for the most active players in the English Premier League and other similar elite leagues.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll look at figures from three of the top leagues in world soccer – the English Premier League, the Bundesliga in Germany, and Italy’s Serie A. All these make good studies, because players are tracked for a wealth of statistics in every game, and modern tracking technology makes it easy to measure precisely how far does a soccer player run in a game.
It has to be noted that players themselves are not allowed to wear anything on their wrists during a game, so they cannot wear a modern smartwatch to measure how many miles a soccer player runs in a game – they have to rely on the statistics provided by the off-field observers.
How Is The Distance A Soccer Player Runs During A Game Measured?
The miniaturization of tracking devices has been a massive step forward in this regard, with two European companies – one German and one Italian – leading the way in (or rather, on) the field.
Germany’s Fraunhofer IIS has devised a system called RedFIR, which uses any number of tiny radio transmitters, each weighing just 15 grams. Small enough to be fitted unobtrusively on players’ shirts, in their boots or in the match ball, the transmitters send signals to receivers set up around the perimeter of the pitch. These then collect data on how far a soccer player runs in a game, and their maximum and average speeds reached. The makers say their system has the distinct advantage over previous versions of not being affected by items, or people, passing across its lines of sight.
While this system has been adopted by some soccer teams and is used to gather data used in training, it doesn’t yet have official F.I.F.A. approval.
So for all official tournaments since the 2002 World Cup, the organization has used a system called ‘Matrics’, developed by Italian company Deltatre. This can track a player’s distance covered, produce a ‘heat map’ of the areas of the soccer pitch which they have covered, and also logs the number of completed passes by each player.
In many leagues, Germany’s Bundesliga for example, the official statistics gathered in this way are released at the end of each game, and are accumulated throughout an entire season.
As of Matchday 22 of the 2021-22 season, around mid-February, 43 players from the league’s 20 teams had covered more than 200km (125 miles), so were averaging between nine and 11 kilometres (between 5.59 and 6.84 miles) per game.
Serie A, the elite soccer league in Italy, meanwhile, also measures players’ average distance covered per game, and in this league no fewer than 206 players were averaging more than 9km per game, the highest average belonging to Inter Milan’s Marcelo Brozovic. In 2,106 playing minutes, he had clocked up an average of 11.708km (7.28 miles) in every game, with teams having completed roughly two-thirds of the season – 25 matches played out of 38.
Players In Which Soccer Positions Do The Most Running?
Although it might appear that a team’s attackers are the ones who are most often seen covering long distances during a game, because they are often where the action is happening just before and as goals are scored, the players who most commonly cover the greatest distance are the midfielders.
This is because, during a game of soccer, midfielders have to run back to help their team defend as well as run forwards and reinforce their team’s line of attacking players when they are trying to score.
Every player in a game of soccer is constantly moving, and some positions, of course, demand more movement than others. The least distance will likely be covered by the goalkeepers, because during general play, they do not move outside of their own team’s penalty area. And while they are the only players on a soccer team who are allowed to handle the ball, they cannot do this outside of this rectangular area, 44 yards wide and 18 yards deep directly in front of their goal.
But for a number of reasons, the players who usually cover the most distance are those in the midfield line. This is because they have a dual role, which involves both supporting the attackers who are furthest up the field and are trying to score the all-important goals, as well as reinforcing their team’s defense by backing up the defenders who have to stop their opponents from creating goal-scoring chances.
They will therefore cover a large area of the pitch, which can be anywhere from right in front of their own team’s goal posts, to the same area in their opponents’ half of the field. And because a midfield formation often consists of a group of tall and physically strong players, their attributes can make a decisive difference in both attacking and defending situations.
Yet while the midfielders will usually cover the longest distances in a match, the players when most likely the greatest amount of time in a full sprint will be the strikers. That’s because, in order to get into positions where they can take the goal-scoring opportunities created by their team-mates, they have to be constantly moving to try to outwit their opponents, and get into the optimal positions for creating the best chances to score a goal.
But final proof that it is the midfielders who are what’s often called the true ‘engine room’ of a soccer team comes from the English Premier League statistics for 2019-20, which showed that, for all 20 teams playing in the League, the record for how far does a soccer player run in a game was claimed by a player in a midfield position.
What Other Factors Affect How Far A Player Runs In A Soccer Game?
The kind of tactics that a team is asked to play can have a major bearing on a player’s average distance run in a soccer game.
As players have become fitter as individuals in recent years, this has allowed a coach to ask his team to play what is termed a ‘high pressing game’, that is, one where, whenever the team does not have possession of the ball, they will quickly try to get as close as possible to the opponent who does have it, to try to limit the amount of space they have to advance into, and therefore their number of options for where to pass or run with the ball next.
The best-known proponents of this tactic are the Liverpool F.C. team managed by German coach, Jurgen Klopp.
While they will largely adhere to their formation, of usually a 4-3-3, that is, four defenders, three midfield players, and three attackers, whenever they are out of possession, Klopp’s players are told to try to advance as high up the pitch as they can, so as to give their opponents as little time and space as possible to decide where to move with or pass the ball next.
It has proved a very successful basis for the team’s tactics, with Liverpool winning a remarkable run of trophies under their current manager, starting with European Champions’ League in 2018-19, continuing on to the U.E.F.A. Super Cup and F.I.F.A. Club World Cup in 2019, and culminating in them becoming the English Premier League champions in 2019-20.
So while it might seem logical that a team will move forward up the pitch and create more goal-scoring chances by passing the ball among themselves accurately and often over long distances, by actually covering those long distances themselves, they can make those passes shorter, and it’s more likely that they will also be more accurate. Hence why the average distance run in a soccer game is probably more than you think – and is not likely to come down any time soon.