Studies suggest that 97% of players at elite Premier League academies never play a single minute of top-flight football. The existence of player aftercare schemes for those who fall through the cracks shows how difficult it is for talented youngsters to make it to the very top of the game.
In order to forge a professional career, a huge amount of skills are needed, including technical ability, tactical awareness, and strong physical attributes. When it comes to the latter, perhaps the most important thing of all is stamina. After all, if you can't last a full 90 minutes, why would a coach pick you to play?
As a result, top footballers are excellent athletes, capable of covering a huge amount of distance each match and recording extremely impressive numbers.
But exactly how much do soccer players run in a game? In this article, that's the question we'll be answering, with specific details about the average miles run in a soccer game by pros, and the players who have recorded the most miles per game. There are some real workhorses out there — soon you'll know exactly who they are.
Association football, or soccer, is one of the sports that requires the greatest amounts of stamina. When compared with some other sports, there is a big difference in how much professional soccer players run each match. This is due to a number of factors including the length of matches and the size and dimensions of the field of play, with some soccer pitches measuring up to 80 yards wide and 120 yards long.
The much smaller size of a tennis court, for example, means that typically tennis players will cover a much smaller total distance (somewhere between 1.2km and 2.2km, according to one BBC study). Most of this distance will be short, explosive sprints and bursts, with very little room for slower jogging.
Team sports played on larger pitches will generally see higher average distances run. A 2009 University of Glamorgan study found that on average, rugby players cover around 7.1km (4.4 miles) per match, with 8.2 km (5.1 miles) being the highest distance covered by any player in that report.
In American Football, there's even less actual playing time (sometimes the ball is actually in play for as little as 10 minutes), and a lot less running done as a result. According to Runner's World, receivers and cornerbacks typically only cover 1.25 miles (around 2km) in a match.
Professional soccer players are at the other end of the spectrum, regularly chalking up heavy mileage during their matches. In the next section of this article, we'll get into these statistics in detail.
Estimates about how much soccer players run can vary, and ultimately there are a number of factors that influence these figures (which we'll spend some time examining shortly).
According to various research outlets, the average miles run in a soccer game by a professional player is around 7 miles (just over 11km).
Depending on the role a player has in the team, they can record figures above or below that, but it's common to see pros hit or surpass the 7 miles per game mark.
This data is impacted by the substantial size of the soccer field, the 90-minute playing time, and the amount of time the ball spends in play (while this is a point of contention, substitution breaks are still kept to a minimum, meaning there is a lot of continuous running in football). Average soccer running distances have also increased over time, as sports science, fitness, and rehabilitation knowledge has improved within the professional game, and physical demands have grown.
There are a number of factors that impact the amount of distance covered by players in matches. The most important consideration is a player's position; midfielders generally cover the most distance in a game of soccer, while a central defender or sometimes even a less mobile striker will often cover significantly less ground.
The players that tend to run the least are goalkeepers (no surprises there), with figures of 2-5km being fairly standard for them. This may seem like a lot given the restrictions of the position, but the rise of the sweeper keeper role has meant that many goalkeepers play a far more active role in the game than they used to, regularly coming well off their line to clear up danger and distribute the ball.
Midfielders will cover the most ground, with average figures standing at around 9-12 km (5.5-7.5 miles).
Up front, forwards will usually run around 8-10 km in a game.
Another thing to consider is the tactical instructions players have been given by their coaches. If a coach adopts an intense, high-pressing strategy (gegenpressing for example), it's likely that players will run a lot more than if a manager chooses to sit their team deep and play with a low block, attempting to stifle the opposition threat. Soccer positions are crucial, but so are tactics and game plans.
There are a handful of professional players that have become particularly well-known for the amount of running they're able to do in a single game. While all top footballers are incredible athletes, some are just a cut above the rest. Below, you'll find a list of some of the players with the best running stats.
Over the summer of 2023, the World Cup-winning French central midfielder N'golo Kante was one of many players to make a big-money switch to the Saudi Pro League, after years of dominating in the Premier League with Chelsea, and previously Leicester. Kante is praised widely for his technical proficiency, tackling ability, dribbling skills, and tactical knowledge, but perhaps the thing he's most well-known for is his incredible stamina.
He's one of the hardest-running soccer players around, regularly covering over 12km in a single match, and even covering over 13km on several occasions. Crucially, he's not just running around for the sake of it — Kante regularly tops the charts for duels won and tackles made, as well as pass completion rate and various other in-possession stats.
During the 2022/23 season, James Ward Prowse stood out for his jaw-dropping free-kick-taking ability, with the former Southampton man now just a goal away from David Beckham's long-standing record of scoring 18 Premier League free-kicks (don't be surprised to see him break the record while at West Ham).
However, Ward-Prowse also drew attention for his serious work rate and stamina. According to official Premier League figures, in the first three months of the 2022/23 season, the centre midfielder covered a total of 174.4 km, more than any other player. Impressive work.
Second in that chart of top Premier League runners was Declan Rice, who moved to Arsenal in the summer after winning the Europa Conference League with West Ham in iconic style last campaign.
An engine in the middle of the park, Rice covers a huge amount of ground each game; according to BBC Sport, in the 22/23 season, he ran a whopping total distance of 412 km (256 miles), which equates to almost 10 marathons and averages out at over 11 kilometres per game.
The shocking cardiac arrest he suffered during EURO 2020 has forced Eriksen to adapt his game slightly; however, despite his casual-looking playing style and knack for flair, throughout his career, he's consistently been one of the top runners in the game. At the 2018 World Cup in Russia, he reportedly covered an average distance of 12.5 km per game, a pretty remarkable figure.
How do we know so much about player running stats in football? While the ongoing growth of data and analytics in soccer has transformed the game and given players, coaches, scouts, analysts, and fans access to tons of figures related to top football players' performance levels, running distances may still seem like something it's difficult for us to be able to record.
The reason we know so much about how much the average soccer player runs is simple: GPS tracking. In professional football, most players are made to wear special vests that are fitted with GPS trackers to record their movement during each match. These trackers calculate distance and location by transmitting unique signals between GPS devices and orbiting satellites, allowing club staff to gather individualised player data relating to various aspects of performance.
Distance run per game is an important data point collected by these GPS trackers, but they are able to gather information on much more than just that. Electronic Performance and Tracking System devices can pick up average running speed, total sprinting distance, average acceleration time, and average deceleration time.
They also monitor heart rate and keep an eye on G-force and impact data, ensuring that an athlete's load isn't too heavy, and helping coaches and staff have a good picture of a player's fitness in order to prevent injury and develop tailor-made strength and conditioning and rehabilitation programs.
If you'd like to find out more about how club staff track players in both professional and youth soccer, check out our in-depth guide to the role of GP tracking in soccer.