Are You Fit to Play in the World Cup?

Photo credit: Chas Sumser Photography

Photo credit: Chas Sumser Photography

Soccer is an incredibly demanding sport. Just imagine the physical load on those bodies, the walking, jogging, running, sprinting, moving sideways, backwards, jumping, stopping and starting, challenging for the ball, being challenged for the ball, all while executing the technical skills and tactics of the game. That’s a tall order. It’s what makes the game so hard. And so fun.

Physiologists help athletes perform their best by assessing and measuring the physical demands on individual players during the game. This is much easier now that we have digital GPS technology. The data shows exactly how far they run, how fast, how many times and in which directions.

Professional men’s soccer players are fast, fit and strong. If you want to compete, here’s what you have to be able to do:

  • Run 6-8.5 miles in a 90 minute game.
  • Make 1400-1600 “runs”/game, including…
  • Sprinting 10-30 yards, 20-40 times/game.
  • Sprinting 1-10 yards, 100-120 times/game.
  • That’s 2-3 sprints/minute all game long.
  • Increase your effort approximately 15% if you’re carrying the ball.
  • Add in the extra effort of accelerations and decelerations,
  • All while avoiding and enduring tackles and challenges relentlessly.

These guys are pretty amazing, aren’t they?

This varies some by position and personal style. Midfielders typically cover the most ground, working to support the defense and the attack and connect the 2. Defenders do a bit more walking and less jogging in the they have while the attacking players are in command. Attacking players make more sprinting runs to gain space and create chances to receive and play the ball. Wingers and outside backs may make more runs. Defensive mids may do more holding. So, the math gets messy, but you get the idea.

Then there is the variability of style. Different countries, different styles, which make for different demands. Teams who build the attack out of the back with many small linking passes like Spain and Holland, include nearly all players in the effort. Teams who bypass the midfield with long balls over the top, let the ball do more of the work, so to speak. Teams that change the pace of play regularly require greater endurance than teams that keep a steady pace. Here’s a cool look at countries’ playing styles in their x’s and o’s.

So how do we prepare our young players to play at the highest levels? We train them that way. In look at their performance across nations and cultures, we find that the distances covered and the total workload is amazingly similar for Under 18 and professional players. Only the intensities differ: pro’s cover more ground at a sprint and youth do more walking and jogging.

It’s not that youth players are not working hard; they just aren’t working as quickly or as smart. And this means they have to fend off more challenges and changes of possession. This means that their bodies are taking a beating.

This may ring true on your local pitch, where 2 youth teams of widely differing ability or skill contend in a league game or a championship match. Your “great team” one weekend may look terrible the next when it is over-matched. Slower decision-making and less convincing execution gives the opponent time to close ground and challenge more easily. That’s painful to watch.

The technically superior team makes quicker decisions and executes more quickly, leaving their opponents less time to react. The underdog often resorts to ‘more physical’ play; they look for physical solutions to soccer problems to compensate for technical and tactical shortcomings. That may be even more painful to watch. Agility and field sense become more valuable than ever!

So which team is Team USA? Much has been made of their physical preparation. Midfielder Graham Zusi recalls a blur of fitness tests, weightlifting sessions, shuttle runs and agility and quickness drills. “It felt like we barely touched the ball for the first week and a half,” he said of their January 2012 training camp.

Clearly, physical fitness is necessary to compete. The game brings huge demands. But fitness alone doesn’t win games. While sprints may make winning track stars and strength training may build championship weight lifters, winning soccer games requires physical preparation which transfers to game play.

That’s why Fit2Finish training emphasizes drills and games that integrate soccer movement with a game objective. We don’t just run sprints or hurdle cones. We connect fitness (running, side-stepping, agility) to physical performance.

  • acceleration with receipt of the ball
  • side-stepping with dynamic vision
  • agility with change of direction

Soccer is a demanding sport. To be fit for the game requires physical performance timed and executed perfectly on the pitch. The World Cup will show us who’s ready. We’ll see what team USA can do. Coach Klinsmann has done his best to prepare them. We won’t know how fit they are until game day.

Go Team USA!

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