A professional soccer game is ideally designed to last for 90 minutes with the potential of 30 minutes more extra time if the game ends in a tie in the knockout phase of a tournament. So, most soccer players will play for approximately 120 minutes in most games.
Depending on the tactics of the coach, some will start the game and get substituted after halftime while others will not start but be brought in at some point in the game.
So, calculating how long a soccer player plays in his or her career is a really tough nut to crack—and it certainly has nothing to do with age or the length of their soccer career.
For example, a soccer player may have a career that spans 20 years but will only come in as a substitute in the majority of the game where he or she will play no more than 20 minutes.
On the other hand, we can have another soccer player whose career lasted only 10 years but throughout his or her career always started and finished the game.
When you do the calculation, you will discover that the second probably played longer than the first. How long a soccer player plays will depend on their fitness and skill level.
In this post, we shall give you some interesting figures on how long soccer players play including the average retirement age of soccer players.
How long do soccer players play?
Malcolm Gladwell in his book ‘Outliers’ proposed that to become an expert in anything, you should have done it for 10,000 hours. This may not be through for most soccer players but every professional soccer player puts in an insane number of hours honing their skills all through their careers.
If what you want to know is how long soccer players play in a game, the answer is somewhere around 120 minutes max if you take away any extra time the referee may add to the game due to stoppages. Ideally, soccer games are not expected to exceed 120 minutes.
Again, if you are talking about how long soccer players play in terms of the duration of their career, that will be a bit tough. However, we estimate between 8 to 20 years on average.
However, if you approach this from the angle of how many hours a soccer player plays all through their career, it becomes almost impossible to say with certainty. This figure can vary largely from one player to the other depending on their passion, dedication, and fitness.
How long do soccer players train?
When considering how long soccer players play, it makes a lot of sense to factor in how much they play in their training too.
Professional soccer teams usually practice around 4 to 6 hours for five days a week—but not all those times are spent on the ball. Some of them are spent on cardio like running and stretching before they actually start kicking the ball.
Let’s assume that a soccer player trains or plays for 4 hours five days a week, that will amount to putting 20 hours every week into the game. In a year, that will come up to 1,040 hours.
If his or her career lasted for 20 years following that trend, the soccer player should have played the game for 20,800 hours.
On the contrary, if the soccer player did a maximum of 30 hours of training per week, that will amount to 1,560 hours per year and 31,200 hours by the end of a 20-year career.
However, we know that may never be the case because sometimes soccer players are forced into a long period of idleness (up to 12 weeks) due to injuries.
For those who started their soccer career early, it may take them up to their mid or late twenties to hit the 10,000 hours mark (if that is the yardstick for becoming an expert in the sport). However, for those that started playing soccer late, they may never hit that mark till the end of their soccer career.
American soccer player Matthew Sheldon was able to estimate how many hours he had put into the game from the moment he was born up to when he was 28 years. Up until the first week of November 2020, he had done a total of 10,543 hours.
One of the key takeaways from his analysis is that how fast you will hit the 10,000-hour mark is not dependent on how early or late you start your career but on your level of commitment. We don’t presume that he will be able to do another 10,000 hours before his retirement.
From this, we can estimate that soccer players train for an average of 20,000 to 30,000 hours throughout their careers.
How long do soccer players play competitive games?
Another way to look at how long soccer players play is by ignoring their training and focusing on their match appearances. Soccer is designed to last for 90 minutes.
However, as we mentioned earlier, the game can stretch beyond that in special cases. Interestingly, since the history of the game, the number of players that have made more than 1,000 appearances is less than 50.
The top on that list is Peter Shilton (a goalkeeper) who made over 1,398 appearances. Cristiano Ronaldo (a forward) is currently in the 8th position with 1,158 appearances. It is important to mention that Shilton amassed this huge number of hours through a career that lasted for 34 years.
Goalkeepers usually don’t get swapped in the game and usually have a longer playing career compared to players in other positions. So let us assume that in all the 1,398 appearances, he played the full 90 minutes. That will give us 125,820 minutes or 2,097 hours.
From this, we can estimate that the actual time that soccer players spend on the field playing competitive games throughout their career is around 1,000 to 2,000 hours.
At what age do soccer players retire?
On average, most soccer players retire at the age of 35. However, in rare cases, we have seen soccer players that retired earlier—mostly due to injuries.
For example, after moving to Barcelona at the age of 33, Sergio Aguero still hoped to see his new team to more soccer glory but was forced into retirement after he was diagnosed with a heart condition.
Michael Johnson was another promising player that was forced to retire early owing to multiple injuries. He retired in 2012 at the age of 24 following treatment for mental health-related problems.
On the exceptional part, we have seen a handful of soccer players continue giving their best in the game even after their 40th birthday.
Kazuyoshi Miura is one of the really exceptional soccer players and is currently the oldest soccer player in the world. In 2022, he turned 55 and left Yokohama FC after they were relegated to join Suzuki Point Getters on a loan deal.
Nevertheless, it is harder to convince top clubs in Europe to sign you once you are over 35. Considering the increasing pace of the game, most clubs want young and vibrant players that will be able to catch up.
Soccer players spend incredible hours playing the game and some play and train longer than others. Although most soccer teams exercise a maximum of 30 hours each week, some soccer players push that limit.
Like Matthew Sheldon rightly pointed out, the harder you train or play, the better you will become in the sport. However, don’t fail to listen to your body and get proper rest when you need it.
Malcolm Gladwell mentioned that to be an expert you have to spend 10,000 hours doing that thing. Well, from our calculation, it will take you about a decade and a half to hit that milestone.
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!