Physical Demands of Your Style of Play

The game of soccer is a complex sport that is a constant interaction between tactical, technical, physical, and psychological components. Thomas Reilly and Dominic Doran (2003) elaborated by stating, “Such qualities are needed in contesting and retaining possession of the ball, maintain a high work-rate for 90 min of play, reacting quickly and appropriately as opportunities arise and regulating mental attributes before and during match-play.” More specifically, Juan Luis Delgado-Bordonau and Alberto Mendez-Villanueva (2012) defined soccer fitness as, “From this perspective, “being fit” is to “play well.” And “play well” is to carry out the on-field duties in accordance with the game model that is intended.” To simplify, soccer fitness could be defined as a player’s ability to execute the coach’s style of play for ninety minutes or more.

Although no component of soccer is utilized in isolation, coaches can enhance the performances of their players by ensuring their training sessions are properly preparing the players for the demands of the game. Thomas Reilly and Jens Bangsbo (2003) stated, “With appropriate training, performance of a player during a match can be increased and the risk of injury can be reduced. In order to design an efficient training programme it is important to be aware of the different components of fitness training in soccer.”

Due to technological advancements, sports scientists are able to quantify the physical demands of match play with the use of video or GPS-based time motion analysis (Jorgen Ingebrigsten, Terje Dalen, Geir Havard Hjelde, Barry Dust, & Ulrik Wisloff, 2015). Current research states that professional players change the direction of their movement nearly 1,100 times and perform on average 150 to 250 different actions with averages of 90 actions at the running speed of 4.5m/s, 36 actions at the speed of 6.0m/s, and 18 actions at the speed of 7.0m/s. Top players cover between 10 and 13.5 km during a match and execute a sprint every four minutes (Marcin Andrzejewski, Jan Chmura, Beata Pluta, & Jan M. Konarski, 2015).

To better understand the physical demands of matches, Jorgen Ingebrigsten, Terje Dalen, Geir Havard Hjelde, Barry Dust, and Ulrik Wisloff (2015) researched Rosenborg FC in an effort to generate and compare physical profiles of professional elite players in five different positions over the course of 15 games through the use of the ZXY Sport Tracking system (Ingebrigsten et. al., 2015). The authors hypothesized that, “the present elite players would sprint and accelerate more during the first half compared to the second half, and we expected to see that players in wide player positions on the team sprinted longer distances and accelerate more often compared to players in the central team positions” (Ingebrigsten et. al., 2015).

Before discussing the authors’ findings, it is important to provide background information on Rosenborg FC in order for the reader to analyze the data with contextual quality. Rosenborg FC is a soccer club that participates in the Norwegian Premier League, and at the time of the study the men’s team were league champions in addition to participants in the qualification for the UEFA Europa League (Ingebrigsten et. al., 2015). The age of the players during the 2014-2015 season ranged from players born in 1981 to 1998 (“Rosenborg BK Squad 2014/2015”).

To best organize and formulate conclusions from the data, the authors compared the sprint and acceleration profiles of five different positions including central defenders, fullbacks, central midfielders, wide midfielders, and forwards. The authors categorized and defined movement into four separate categories including walking (0-7.1 km), jogging (7.2-14.3 km), running (14.4-19.7 km), and high-speed running (19.8-25.2 km).

At the conclusion of the study, the authors reported that on average the Rosenborg FC players covered 11,230 ± 992 meters (11.23 kilometers) during a full match with 10,385 ± 767 m and 845 ± 332 m representing low and high intensity activities, respectively (Ingebrigsten et. al., 2015). Additionally, the authors found that on average the players sprinted 213 ± 111 m distributed over 16.6 ± 7.9 sprints throughout the course of the match (roughly 8 ± 4 sprints per half) and accelerated 90.7 ± 20.9 times per match (Ingebrigsten et. al., 2015).

The profiles of the five different positions that the authors’ discussed are as follows:

According to the results, the authors’ were correct in their assumption that the wide players would sprint longer distances as the wingers sprinted an average of 396 meters more than the next closest position (central midfielders) per match. Additionally, the authors discovered that the number of sprints per match (~16) was considerably lower than previously published data (27-35 sprints) (Ingebrigsten et. al., 2015).

The data collected can provide coaches with a framework to develop training sessions that resemble match conditions. For instance, the wingers accumulate the highest load of high-intensity running in Rosenborg FC’s style of play, which means that in order to create a proper training environment, appropriate high-intensity running loads must be included in the organization strategy. An example of a training exercise that elicits high-speed running could include: Line Game 5v5 (GK + Back 4 vs Striker + 4 Midfielders) in one half the field with the offensive 5 attacking a regulation goal and the defensive 5 attacking two small goals. By manipulating the space and number of players in an exercise (in this case, smaller numbers in a larger space), the coach can manipulate tactical exercises to organically stimulate the necessary physical adaptions (in this case, high-speed running). Although the game of soccer is complex and filled with uncertainties, coaches can utilize technology to gain valuable insight into the physical demands of their style of play and thus create physically appropriate training sessions that work to increase performance and reduce injuries.


Andrzejewski, M., Chmura, J., Pluta, B., & Konarski, J. M. (2015). Sprinting Activities and Distance Covered by Top Level Europa League Soccer Players. International Journal Of Sports Science & Coaching, 10(1), 39-50.

Delgado-Bordonau, J. L., & Mendez-Villanueva, A. (2012). TACTICAL PERIODIZATION: MOURINHO'S BEST-KEPT SECRET?. Soccer Journal, 57(3), 29-34.

Ingebrigtsen, J., Dalen, T., Hjelde, G. H., Drust, B., & Wisløff, U. (2015). Acceleration and sprint profiles of a professional elite football team in match play. European Journal Of Sport Science, 15(2), 101-110.

Reilly, T., & Bangsbo, J. (2003). Physiology of Training. In Science and soccer (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.

Reilly, T., & Doran, D. (2003). Fitness Assessment. In Science and soccer (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.

Rosenborg BK - Squad 2014/2015. (n.d.). Retrieved January 19, 2016, from

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