Posted by: jonglapa | October 4, 2008

The math of soccer

I wouldn’t say that I hate running—I just don’t enjoy it much. As a member of the club soccer team here and after years of playing year-round soccer back at home, I ran out of necessity. The game is ninety minutes long (closer to ninety-six or seven, if you count the stoppage time at the end of each half).  When I think about even standing for that long, my legs start to ache. But, after my team finished up our practice last week with another round of sprints, my friend and I got to talking… how far and how fast do soccer players really run in a game? 4 miles? 8 miles? 12 miles? Make your guess now (with Price-is-Right rules in play, of course).

 

The past year, while I was watching soccer on TV, I saw that a player’s total distance traveled would come up as a graphic when he was substituted off the field.  It turns out that each of these players was wearing a small satellite chip in one of his shoes.  Add a little triangulation in and, voila, we can see total distance traveled.  I did some quick research into the matter and found this article on the U.S. Soccer Association website, “The Physical Demands of Soccer” (http://www.ussoccer.com/articles/viewArticle.jsp_13877.html). Evidently, people have been interested in this topic for a while. The noted first scientific study into the subject dates back to 1977, and scientists concluded here that the average soccer player runs about 8800 meters per match.  8,800m/1,600m = 5.5 miles. 5.5miles/1.5 hours gives you the turtle-slow pace of 3.67 miles per hour. The article goes on to note that “more recent studies” with far more precise instruments have bumped that number up to 10,000 meters per game (10,000m/1,600m = 6.25 miles; 6.25 miles/1.5 hours = 4.17 mph).  Now let’s say that pace drops to 4.0 mph for the non-professional, youth-level soccer player that some of us might relate to.  Given the rigor of your average weekend tournament (usually right around 4 games in 2 days), that’s still 4 games* 1.5 hr/game * 4 miles/ hr  = 22 miles run in 2 days.  Add in warm-ups and cool-downs and you’re now approaching the distance of a marathon. 

 

Another stat to note is that the distance traveled varies with positions.  As you might imagine, midfielders run the most, sometimes approaching eight or nine miles per game; defenders and forwards run the least, averaging around five to six (ignoring goalies, who will travel far less than a mile). The numbers start to make even more logical sense when you consider that the average player will have the ball at his or her feet for only about a minute and a half. I laugh when I think about how players use the other 88.5 minutes making runs, running to get back on defense, avoiding being run past by the other team and, overall, just running in general. Here’s another puzzler: 22 players having the ball for 1.5 minutes each only accounts for 33 minutes of a 90 minute, or about 36.67%, of a 90-minute game.  This means that for about 57 minutes of the 90 minute game (63.33%) the ball is moving from person to person, in neither team’s possession (in soccer lingo, this is called 50-50 balls due to the fact that both teams should have an equal chance at winning the ball) or out-of-bounds.

 

Moral of the story? If nothing else, this type of running beats the treadmill hands-down, anytime. 

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Responses

  1. This sort of back-of-the-envelope estimation is always great fun. How many fish in the ocean? How far do you walk in your lifetime? How long would your fingernails be if you never cut them? How many shoes can you make out of a cow? Another skill we don’t teach enough of.

    By the way, how did you estimate/find that the average player will have the ball at his or her feet for only 1.5 minutes?

  2. That’s complete bullshit

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