Everyone who has played soccer knows it. The higher the playing level, the faster the game. Now it's documented. Top-class players sprint and run longer at high-intensity than lower-standard players.
You might have played against a much stronger opponent, or maybe you were promoted to play with older or more advanced players – in any case, playing at a better level means that the game-pace is considerably quicker and the physical demands are higher.
In order to handle this and be able to compete, you have to be more alert and improve your anticipation of the game; in essence, you have to react quicker and accelerate faster to get to the ball before your opponent or complete the pass to your team-mate before he is being closed down. But don’t worry, it’s not you. It’s a scientifically proven characteristic of the game of soccer.
Among other studies, this was proven by a study that compared the physical performance of two male professional soccer teams: a top Italian team (that were also playing in the Champions League) vs. a lower-standard team playing in the best league in Denmark.
The study showed that the top-class soccer team did more sprints and runs with high-intensity, and they also covered a longer distance while sprinting and running with high-intensity compared to the lower-standard team. As a result, the top-class team spent more time sprinting and running with high-intensity than the lower-standard team.
This “soccer-trait” was also found in women soccer when the physical performance of a top-class female soccer team was compared to a lower-standard. The top-class players sprinted and ran longer at high-intensity than the lower-standard players. Thus, these aspects should be trained intensively in women soccer.
Irrespective of gender, these findings indicate that the playing level of soccer is characterized by the players’ ability to repeatedly perform sprints and high-intensity runs. The difference in sprinting and high-intensity running between the two playing levels highlights the importance of intense intermittent exercise capacity for match performance in both men and women soccer. As a result, soccer players of both gender should focus on improving their ability to perform repeated sprints and high-intensity running and to recover rapidly from such efforts.
M. Mohr, P. Krustrup, J. Bangsbo, J. (2003); 'Match performance of high-standard soccer players with special reference to development of fatigue'; Journal of Sports Sciences.
M. Mohr, P. Krustrup, H. Andersson, D. Kirkendal, J. Bangsbo (2008); 'Match activities of elite women soccer players at different performance levels'; Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.