Fitness is essential for thriving in most sporting genres. When you look across different sporting cultures, you will find that the majority of the practitioners usually have a fitness standard that demands strict adherence by all practicing athletes.
But, how do you evaluate the fitness of these athletes? With soccer’s high demand for strength, speed, endurance, and agility, can soccer players be called the fittest?
Athletes like sprinters focus more on enhancing their speed and agility. On the other hand, boxers train hard to improve their punching power, precision, and endurance. So how do soccer players compare with these athletes?
When we say “soccer players are the fittest” in the world of sports, from what basis do we make this conclusion? We could consider speed, strength, endurance, and precision parameters to arrive at a logical conclusion.
This article answers this question by exploring the fitness demands on soccer players and how it compares to what is obtainable in other sports.
Let’s get started!
Are soccer players the fittest in the world?
For most players, a heavy price is paid to perfect their craft. They spend many hours on the field, on the courts or tracks, fine-tuning their bodies to become outstanding in their chosen field.
As a result, most turn out with amazing bodies capable of doing what most humans may consider impossible. Soccer players, for example, stand tall among all sports. Players are constantly mobile, moving across the pitch for 90 minutes.
During this period, they have to stay switched on and sync with the flow of play throughout the match. When you consider the cardio required to last for 90 minutes and that these players play up to 38 games a season, you could hurriedly conclude that soccer players are the fittest.
But the truth is that some athletes play more games within a relatively similar time range. For example, in the English Premier League, every team plays 38-matches per season, while each team plays up to 82-matches each season in the NBA.
This difference in volume complicates arriving at a definite answer. After all, when comparing two things, there must be a few criteria. Moreover, there must be similarities that can be used to place these two things side-by-side.
This is why our best approach would be looking at sports and their athletes as a collective group and comparing core requirements for these different types of sport.
Speed is an essential attribute for most athletes. Practitioners have to sprint a lot in games like basketball, soccer, and athletics in general.
When brought side-by-side, you would find that sprinters would likely come out on top. However, the only sport close to rivaling professional athletes at running is soccer.
Soccer players cover a large distance during a game. With a combination of short bursts and long-enduring runs, soccer players cover up to 7 miles every game.
This is a staggering difference when you compare it to the mileage of basketball players who don’t go beyond a miserly 2.55 miles per game. However, the distance covered by soccer players is not as critical as the speed with which they do it.
Some teams rely solely on the speed of their wingers and fullbacks to rip apart opposition teams. A good example is the English soccer club, Liverpool. They have Egyptian Mohammed Salah on the wings, who can run as fast as 33km/h.
Comparing this speed with that of former world fastest man Usain Bolt who ran at an average of 37.58km/h at his peak, you would realize just how close soccer players are.
There are soccer players that are faster than Mo Salah, but his speed shows the potential and conditioning of soccer players.
Taking nothing away from sprinters and other athletes, one could argue that soccer players would thrive or even dominate other speed-dependent sports with the proper training.
We can conclude from the above information that soccer players are the second professional athletes when it comes to speed.
The ability to endure pain and the general constraints of human physiology is not a small feat. Athletes are expected to dig deep and keep going till success is achieved in whatever sport they practice.
To measure endurance accurately, you need to compare the duration of each sport. You will find that soccer players stay on the field for longer periods than most athletes in other sports.
For example, the span of a soccer match is two halves of 45-minutes with a 15-minutes break in between.
This duration is much more than what you will find in basketball and football. Basketball players are expected to play for a total of 40-minutes divided into 4 quarters of 10-minutes each.
The 40-minutes game is laced with several time-out calls and breaks at the end of a 10-minute quarter. Plus, multiple substitutions are also allowed for the majority of the game.
In football, the game is also expected to run for a total of 60-minutes with two halves of 30-minutes. Furthermore, multiple substitutions are allowed here.
This is a huge contrast when you consider that soccer players usually have to play for longer with fewer substitutes permitted.
The only athletes that outclass soccer players in terms of endurance are long-distance runners. Marathons can go as long as 150-minutes without breaks.
Even though, in exceptional cases, soccer players may be required to play for 120-minutes, they still come off a bit short of what is done by long-distance runners.
It is safe to say, that soccer players don’t do too badly when it comes to endurance.
3. General appearance
Most soccer players are exposed to similar conditions and go through identical workout routines even though they play different positions. Thus, in soccer, a player’s physique doesn’t necessarily dictate which position he or she will play.
This implies that the same fitness level is required from all players, regardless of their role. However, when you look at team games in other sports, you will see a significant difference.
Players in the NFL and the NBA usually have different physiques and you can easily spot the position they play.
Take, for example, when you consider a defensive back and an offensive lineman in football, you will notice a marked difference in their physique solely because of the difference in the positions they play.
However, if you pick two NBA players in different positions randomly, you will hardly find a clear difference in their appearance. This is because their positions do not define how they look in most cases.
Thus, it is easy to conclude that there will be more fit soccer players than you will find in other sports.
Strength is not an easy variable to quantify. Nevertheless, it measures how strong a person is or how much power the individual possesses.
The need for strength varies in different games, but strength is needed for most parts of soccer. Strength is needed for running and kicking the ball. But where it is most obvious is when competing with an opponent.
For example, when the ball is crossed into the opposition’s goal during a set-piece, you will see a lot of pushing and shoving as players try to get to the ball. The stronger players dominate the weaker ones in most cases.
However, all the pushing and shoving you see in soccer in no way compares to what you have in combat sports. The strength and power in the boxer’s arms can be terrifying.
So the question is, how do soccer players rank when placed against the strongest athletes on the planet? Even if you place the fittest soccer players in different weight classes, you can’t compare them to boxers, wrestlers, and mixed martial artists by any stretch of the imagination.
However, you may see a different result when the roles are reversed because fighters are known for their low endurance, an area where soccer players thrive.
Another attribute needed across different sports is agility and, with the range of motions in soccer, you can place players to be among the most agile in the world. Again, gymnasts will occupy the top positions, but soccer players will follow closely.
Gymnasts and Ski Ballet athletes, to name a few, use their bodies to make challenging twists and turns to entertain the world and gain points.
So, it is no surprise if these disciplines are considered more agile than soccer players. Long hours are spent stretching and extending the range of flexibility of their bodies.
However, the ranges of motion in soccer include sprinting, jumping, and different types of acrobatic moves that are usually a joy to behold, like scorpion kicks and bicycle kicks. This is in no way close to the stunts pulled by basketball players when making dunks.
The art of dunking is such a spectacle that it is used to compete in special exhibition matches. The different types of dunks you see and the agility they require shows just how agile basketball players are.
When we bring all this together, it is safe to say soccer players will be among the topmost agile athletes. But, this is down to the conditioning of their bodies. They are so well-rounded that they can fit in other sports.
As much as this may seem as enough proof to conclude that soccer players are the fittest in the world, it would amount to undermining other sports.
We can safely conclude, however, that the demands of soccer stretch most players to the point that they can thrive in almost every other sport.
Are soccer players more physically fit than other athletes?
The simple answer to this is Yes, soccer players are more physically fit than most athletes in other sports. Most sports demand less, and the duration of the action in these different sports is usually lower.
Also, soccer players have a shorter off-season. They have to play for longer periods until they retire. You will hardly find a soccer player inactive for more than a month except if ruled out by injury.
This is because there are usually many competitions scheduled for the entire year. Therefore, players are expected to be in their best physical condition throughout this period.
This means that soccer players have a short period to relax and avoid falling out of shape. However, this is not the same with other team and individual sports.
For example, athletics have as few as three major competitions. This disparity in the frequency of action across the different types of sports makes soccer players fitter than others.
All sports, with the exception of board gameslike chess, have fit athletes and you cannot thrive in most sports if you aren’t physically fit.
Nevertheless, soccer players standout. Place them side-by-side with any other sports and they will hold their own without flinching.
Hi there, I’m Jay.
Soccer is everything in my life! My friends and I have created this blog with all our enthusiasm, passion, and understanding after years of playing pro soccer. Hope you will enjoy it!