Football (soccer) is a multifaceted team sport that incorporates a blend of strategic passes, positioning, sprints, and collisions. Understanding the distance a player travels is essential when crafting an effective training regimen that addresses strength, conditioning, and the ability to sustain energy levels throughout a combination of sprinting, abrupt decelerations, and jogging.
In this segment, we underscore the significance of gauging total distance covered by male senior footballers during a match and how these distances vary across different playing positions. Each position fulfils a vital role, with some frequently engaging in high-intensity sprints, while others may carry out more jogging. Raising awareness among coaches and athletes will have a positive impact on how training is approached and can lead to improved performance on the field.
In football, a diverse range of positions play pivotal roles in the game, each carrying distinct responsibilities and traversing varied distances across the field. Every position holds equal significance in shaping the team's overall success, which determines the distance covered by each role1. On average, professional players cover distances ranging from 9 to 11 kilometres per match, with central midfielders and fullbacks typically leading the way at 11 km and 10km, respectively2. Central defenders cover the lower end of the average, around 9km3.
Football requires players to compete at varying intensities throughout a match. Within the PlayerData app, our speed zones are broken down in the following percentages: jogging (25% of top speed), low intensity running (35% of top speed), medium intensity running (50% of top speed), high intensity running (70% of top speed) and sprinting (85% of top speed). Each of these intensities have different energy requirements and utilise different proportions of the body’s main energy systems, with sprinting being the most demanding and jogging being the least demanding. Players have a limited energy store within their body meaning that they all have an individual limit to the duration they can spend in each intensity. Research has shown sprinting to be maintained for the least amount of time and distance, whereas jogging is able to be sustained for longer periods and therefore greater distances, due to its lesser energy requirement5.
When an athlete performs any exercise their body will use a metabolic substance called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is stored within the body and is used when there is a sudden requirement of energy7. However, when performing high intensity exercise, such as sprinting, the body requires ATP at a rapid rate. To get this ATP the body will use an energy system called the phosphocreatine system. This system allows for the body to produce ATP very quickly, however it only has a small storage capacity, meaning that it depletes within a matter of seconds. When this occurs the body then relies heavily on the process of glycolysis to produce ATP. This system takes longer and is considered anaerobic due to the lack of oxygen used in the process to form ATP. Due to this process being anaerobic it leads to the production of lactic acid8. This can cause a deterioration in performance as acidity within the athlete’s muscles increases, impacting the muscle’s ability to contract efficiently9. Alternatively when athletes perform at a lower intensity, like jogging, they are able to maintain the intensity for greater distances. This is due to the energy demand of jogging being substantially smaller than that of higher intensities. This allows for the body to use the Krebs Cycle to produce ATP from both sources of fat and carbohydrates to maintain performance. This resulting in athlete’s stores not being depleted meaning performance to be sustained for longer periods10.
Reviewing the data history in the app provides valuable means for coaches to record any atypical trends, such as reduced distance covered or excessive distance covered by a player. The literature has discussed athletes who overtrain are at a higher risk of injury such as hamstring strains caused by overstretching of the muscle. This can be done by excessive sprinting and lunging for the ball11-13.
Match sessions offer a comprehensive analysis of the team's average statistics, shedding light on metrics such as total distance covered, high-intensity running, and sprinting, which are often the most physically demanding aspects of the game. The application enables coaches to access their entire team's metrics directly from the home screen. This proves to be a valuable tool for coaches to identify any recurring patterns of exceptional performance among certain players.
Depending on the player's position, some may find themselves exerting excessive effort during games, providing an opportunity to instruct other players on how to be more tactful in their gameplay, thereby fostering teamwork and creating valuable learning experiences. Match session analysis can highlight trends in an athlete's performance, providing a good indication on whether they are at risk of an injury by showing excessive distance covered consecutively in match sessions.
Training sessions have the feature ‘Segments’, allowing the coach to create time within the training session to focus on a specific drill to improve sprint distances or endurance. The metric breakdown in the training session can highlight the performance output of the athletes which allows the coach to recap and tailor training sessions to focus on fitness, or if following a game, a lighter session focussing on technique. Awareness of the team’s performance output is essential as this will impact their game play as well as bringing to light prevention of injury or burn out. The easy to view metric summary will highlight if an athlete is following a trend of overtraining.
A brilliant feature within training sessions are surveys. These are easy to use additional analysis of how the team is feeling after a session. These questions range from rate of perceived exertion (RPE) questions to how they slept or how they feel mentally. Taking time to ask these questions will ensure the team are well rested and ready for the next training or match session.
The analysis of the different distances covered by football players reveals the dynamic nature of the sport and the specialised roles each player has on the field. We have observed that defenders, like full-backs and centre-backs, cover shorter distances during a match, showing their focus on maintaining a strong defensive line.
In contrast, midfielders have a wider range of movement as they connect the defence and the attack. They play a vital role in distributing the ball and contributing to both offensive and defensive phases. Lastly, forwards, especially strikers, consistently cover the longest distances, highlighting their responsibility in pressuring opponents and creating opportunities to score goals.
Understanding that positions differ in distance covered is valuable for coaches and athletes to ensure training and match play is efficient and sustainable. Awareness of any unusual trends is an essential tool for improvement, which has been made simple by viewing the home dashboard on the PlayerData app.
For more data on other populations we have some recommended papers below: