Soccer is a very active sport that involves a LOT of running. If fitness is one of your goals in picking a sport for your child, soccer is a great activity. But, how many miles do soccer players run in a game? Youth soccer players can run between 2 miles and 10 miles in a single game!
US Youth Soccer Guidelines Affect the Running Distance
US Youth Soccer guidelines dictate certain game lengths, numbers of players and field sizes for each age group, each of which impacts the amount of running required.
|Age Group||Game Length||Number of Players||Field Size|
|6U-8U||4, 10 minute quarters||4 v 4||15/25 x 25/35||2 – 3 miles|
|9U-10U||2, 25 minute halves||7 v 7||35/45 x 55/65||2 – 4 miles|
|11U-12U||2, 30 minute halves||9 v 9||45/55 x 70/80||3 – 5 miles|
|13U-14U||2, 35 minute halves||11 v 11||50/100 x 100/130||4 – 6 miles|
|15U-16U||2, 40 minute halves||11 v 11||50/100 x 100/130||5 – 8 miles|
|17U and up||2, 45 minute halves||11 v 11||50/100 x 100/130||6 – 10 miles|
Position Impacts the Distance Run
The position being played also impacts how far youth soccer players run in a game. Typically, midfielders do the most running while goalies run the least.
Midfielders run the most because their responsibilities are box to box. In other words, they cover the entire length of the field from their own goal box to their opponent’s goal box. Forwards usually spend most of their effort in the attacking ⅔ of the field while defenders patrol the defensive ⅔ of the field. Goalies are responsible for even less. Less field coverage means less running.
Soccer Players Should Train for Endurance
Unlike football or baseball, soccer is played continuously with limited restarts and substitutions, so starting at about the 9U level (below the 9U level, normal practice activities should be sufficient), endurance should be a focus of training. Individually, this can be accomplished with distance running. Between 2 miles and 5 miles at a light to moderate pace 3 days a week is adequate for most players to develop the requisite endurance.
Team Training Exercises for Endurance
Team training should incorporate endurance activities as well. However, I would discourage basic running during training sessions. Endurance can be developed right alongside soccer skills with the correct exercises. I recommend the following simple set up:
With cones, create a rectangle roughly the size of a basketball court (30 strides by 15 strides). The players will line up with their soccer balls at one of the cones. The players will then dribble their balls at a jogging pace in line around the perimeter of the rectangle in a clockwise direction for a certain amount of time. I would suggest no more than 5 minutes with basic dribbling. Make sure to switch to counterclockwise halfway through.
They’re not only developing endurance, but they’re also working on comfort with the ball! Their focus should be on proper dribbling technique (knee up, toe down, with top part of the foot). Very few soccer players actually like to simply run to increase endurance, so it’s best if they don’t even know that running is one of the primary goals!
Now, it’s time to add some variety. After they have done some basic dribbling, switch to right foot only dribbling. Then, switch to left foot only. Next, you can have them do an inside of the foot / outside foot alternating pattern with just their right foot, followed by just their left foot. Finally, they can do moving foundations (back and forth pattern between right foot and left foot using insides of the feet only).
There are dozens of other options as well. You could even have them race to make things interesting. Just keep them moving!
Soccer Players Should Train for Bursts of Speed
Running in soccer isn’t just about endurance / distance, though. Soccer players have to be able to sprint at high speeds in short bursts, as well. Breakaways, through runs and defensive recovery runs require a lot more velocity than just an endurance jog.
I like to equate the running and pace of a soccer game to a symphony. There are times when the music is slow and other times when the music is more urgent. But, just as slow music has a purpose, the slower times on the soccer field should be intentional as well — it’s not a break!
Interval training is the key to improving a player’s ability to burst when needed. A slow jog followed by a short high speed sprint followed by another slow jog repeating pattern will mimic the pace changes of a soccer game.
Team Training Exercises for Bursts of Speed
Again, in team training, you can accomplish interval training using the rectangle described above, but, rather than a consistently paced jog around the entire rectangle, the players should sprint the long sides and jog the short sides. The previously described variety can be added here as well. One key point is that the ball should be under the player’s control the entire time. Players will tend to get the ball too far out in front of them on the sprint sides of the rectangle. My mantra is always “fast, but under control”.
Soccer Players Run a Lot!
Players are going to run a lot in soccer — up to 10 miles per game. Those with good endurance and the ability to burst to a sprint speed are more likely to be successful.
How Fast do Players Run in a Soccer Game?
Cristiano Ronaldo’s fastest speed is reported to be around 21 mph (33.6 kmph). Lionel Messi is a touch slower at 20.3 mph (32.5 kmph). The fastest soccer player in the world is Kylian Mbappe at 22.5 mph (36.2 kmph). Compare that with the fastest human in the world — Usain Bolt — who can run 23.32 mph (37.58 kmph).
What is the Downside of all that Running?
One of the biggest downsides to running in soccer is blisters. To avoid blisters, make sure shoes fit properly and are broken in slowly. Also, socks should always be worn in practices and games.
I was especially prone to blisters in my playing days, so I’ve tried many things. (Do not try more than one pair of socks — it doesn’t work!) The only thing that worked for me consistently was applying lotion to my feet before playing or practicing. The other approach — which is the one that I eventually embraced — is to let calluses form. Eventually, the calluses will protect your feet and blisters will not be an issue.
Another downside to the running involved in soccer is that it reduces the number of games that can be played in a given amount of time to allow for proper recovery. Some leagues, such as the ECNL, limit the number of games for a player in a single day to one in order to avoid player fatigue. The problem with that is, if you’re playing in a travelling league or a travelling tournament, the number of games can be curtailed to the point of questioning whether the weekend is worth the travel hassle.
Often, a weekend soccer tournament may be limited to only 3 games. Contrast that with a typical softball tournament that may involve 6 (or more!) games.
With all of that running, coaches have to be able to make substitutions to keep their players fresh. It’s important to know when and how substitutions can be made. “When Can You Substitute in Youth Soccer?” covers those topics in detail.