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Physical Demands of the Soccer Player




Whether it's the pros or amateurs - Over the course of a season, most players will reach their physical limits. In the first part of our blog series “Physical Demands of the Soccer player” you will learn how high the physical load actually is and why it should influence your training sessions as well as your team’s depth charts.

“This is madness! There are players on the team that run even less than me!" Said Toni Polster in the jersey of 1.FC Köln after a defeat. A subjective perception almost every footballer has felt during their career. Most of the time it in fact is the distance run in a soccer game that coaches and supporters alike loudly complain about. Due to technical innovations in game analysis, such as tracking systems, facts can now be presented to counteract subjective perceptions. These not only provide the viewer with more transparent statistics, but also help coaches and scientists to gather more comprehensive performance data. But why the whole effort?

Especially in modern day soccer, the physical performance of players is an important factor, which often decides the most crucial parts of a game. So, coaches and scientists are justifiably interested in knowing what physical challenges their players are facing during a game. The gained insights form a load profile which can and should be the foundation of your team management and more importantly the planning of training sessions and periods.

Up to 1400 movement sequences in a game

A look at the figures of the pros shows what extreme stress the players expose themselves to during a season. For example, Lars Stindl of Borussia Mönchengladbach, who until March 2018 is the strongest runner of the current Bundesliga season. In 24 games Stindl comes to an incredible 287km, which corresponds to an average of almost 12km per game [1]. His stats are thus consistently in the upper half of a soccer player’s running distance per game, that was determined by various studies to be in the range of 8-14 kilometers [2-4]. However, the total distance run represents an easy-to-interpret, but not final load value of a player. Soccer is characterized not only by long distance running, but especially by a high degree of variety in the movements. In a game, up to 1400 actions can be individually measured, which means a movement change every 3-5 seconds [4]. These movements include an average of about 15 tackles, 10 headers and almost "countless" stopping and direction changes per player [3].

With such numbers, it quickly becomes clear what incredible energy footballers have to spend on each game. The acyclic character of the football game causes players to generate energy not only from the aerobic but also the anaerobic metabolism. This is particularly evident in high-intensity runs and sprints, as the energy is gained within the first few seconds from the anaerobic metabolism of creatine phosphate and carbohydrates [5]. In the 2014 World Cup semi-final, a German midfielder completed an incredible 68 sprints. This player ran with a velocity of at least 25,2 km/h every 82 seconds of the game which was far above the tournament average of 173 seconds.

Efficient training thanks to performance data

If these values of the professionals are now compared with the findings from the semi-professional football, a performance difference becomes clear, particularly in the area of these very high-intensity runs and sprints [4, 6, 9, 10, 11]. Professional footballers do much more of them, which also results in a higher frequency of actions per game. In addition to differences in physical conditions, this is mainly due to better fitness levels of professionals. Faster regeneration times between the individual actions additionally increase the frequency of the high-intensity sprints [5]. Although of course tactical and technical skills cannot be disregarded as an influencing factor [11], these physical differences particularly empower the professional players to a faster and more intense football game.

The scientific performance data can now be used by coaches to break down the physical load of a soccer game and allow them to optimally align their training. The total running distances from walking to sprinting, the exact number of actions within a game and their specific duration, allow the coaches to train as close as possible to the games requirements. More than the individual total running distance suggests it is especially the mix of running elements and quick explosive movements, that takes place during a game. On the amateur level, where training time is usually limited, conditional training should therefore be as football-specific as possible. This could be implemented, for example through intense small sided games.

In the second part of our blog series "Physical Demands of the Soccer player" we will deal with the position-specific requirements of a full-back and will show you how this position should be trained.

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[2] Chmura, P et al (2017). Analysis of Motor Activities of Professional Soccer Players during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
[3] Stolen, T. et al (2005). Physiology of Soccer - An Update.
[4] Impellizzeri, F. (2013). Aus Spielanalysen abgeleitetes (physiologisches) Anforderungsprofil im Fußball
[5] Sperlich, B. et al (2013). Ausdauertraining - Dauermethode versus intensive Intervallmethode im Fußball.
[6] Mohr, M. et al (2003). Match performance of high-standard soccer players with special reference to development of fatigue.
[7] Carling, C. (2013). Interpreting Physical Performance in Professional Soccer Match-Play: Should We be More Pragmatic in Our Approach?
[8] Widmer, J. (2015). Die Konditionsfaktoren im Fußball.
[9] Le Gall, F. et al (2010). Anthropometric and fitness characteristics of international, professional and amateur male graduate soccer players from an elite youth academy.
[10] Mohr, M. et al (2008). Match Activities of Elite Women Soccer Players at Different Performance Levels.
[11] Bradley, P. S. et al (2013) Match performance and physical capacity of players in the top three competitive standards of English professional soccer
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