Soccer is the most popular sport in the world, and its biggest stars are paid millions to ply their trade in top-tier European leagues, so, it is a little surprising to find that some people consider soccer players to be weak. Are they? And, if not, why is anyone under this impression?
Why are Soccer Players so Weak?
Soccer players are not weak. The top professionals in the sport are, almost without exception, incredible athletes. While soccer doesn’t demand as much pure power and strength as some sports, it sets high standards for endurance, agility, and speed, all of which require incredible core strength.
Let’s look at the unique demands the game makes on its best players and gain a better understanding of the skills involved in playing soccer at the highest level. We’ll also compare soccer players to other athletes and consider why some people might consider them weak.
Is Strength Important for Soccer?
Soccer players do not require as much physical power or brute strength as competitors in some other popular sports do. This is why, on average, they have a smaller build than powerlifters, American football players, and heavyweight boxers and wrestlers.
Soccer players are also usually leaner than athletes in more power-driven disciplines, meaning their bodies contain less fat per pound or kilogram, and their muscles are less bulky.
However, soccer still demands incredible core strength and highly-toned muscles. Both these requirements mean that soccer players cannot be weak if they wish to perform at an elite level. While they may not be the strongest athletes, they are definitely strong.
The Importance of Core Strength for Soccer Players
The core consists primarily of muscles in your upper body. It includes the muscles in and around your abdomen and back that connect to the spine and pelvis but does not include arms, heads, and legs. But why is core strength so vital for a sport defined by its association with the foot? After all, it’s also known as football!
It turns out the core is key to several functions that are vitally important to a player’s arsenal.
Core Strength Improves Posture and Balance
Because the core muscles play a vital role in supporting your spine, they are crucial to maintaining stability when upright. When moving at speed, quickly changing direction, or abruptly halting or breaking out into runs–as soccer players routinely do–the core is what helps maintain good posture and balance.
Moreover, players do not have a free run on the field. As they perform these dazzling and rapidly unfolding actions, they are often pressed by or challenging opponents. When jostling for a ball, good balance becomes central to keeping up with and outdoing opponents.
Core Strength Enhances Stamina and Endurance Capabilities of a Soccer Player
A regular soccer game involves two halves of 45 minutes each, plus any injury time to make up for stoppages in play. Moreover, interruptions to play are few and far between, and most games enjoy long stretches without stopping for substitution or injury.
In the knock-out stages of competitions, tied games go into 30 minutes of added extra time on top of the 90-plus minutes already played. That makes for two hours of near-continuous play with just a 15-minute halftime break to catch your breath. Throughout this time, many of the players stay on the field.
What’s more, for most of the time soccer players spend on the pitch, they need to stay on the move. Soccer players also cover the highest distance of any athlete in a single game, running on average 9.5 miles (15.3 km) per match. In comparison, basketball players cover around 2.72 miles (4.38 km) a game, and American football players only cover 1.25 miles (2 km) a game.
In today’s fast-paced games, any player that’s not constantly pressing opponents or challenging them for the ball is a liability to their team. Core strength can make the difference between a player performing at 100% throughout a game or losing steam as a game advances into its crucial finishing stages.
Core Strength Means Increased Power and Coordination
Core strength contributes to increased power, which is essential in making fast runs and taking precise long kicks, such as corner kicks and free kicks. It is also crucial in many coordination tasks central to the game, for instance, dribbling a ball at speed past opponents while finding teammates far up-field.
Core Strength Helps Avoid Injury and Reduces Recovery Times
Professional soccer players play a game a week for much of the competitive season, with very little recovery time in between. Towards the business end of tournaments, their schedule can get even more crowded.
They also train regularly throughout much of the year, both outdoors and in the gym.
Players’ bodies are constantly under pressure through all of these sessions. The cumulative strain on their muscles and joints can often be too much, and, as with all sports, injury is a constant.
Good core strength helps a player avoid getting injured too often or too easily by building muscle strength and resilience. For the same reason, it also helps injured players recover from injuries faster.
Why Soccer Players Need To Have Highly-Toned Bodies
Besides core strength, lean, toned musculature is vital to high performance in a top-tier soccer match. This is why soccer players are much leaner than athletes in power sports like American football and heavyweight boxers, wrestlers, and weightlifters, who tend to be bigger and have bulkier muscles.
Aside from professional athletes, soccer players are much leaner than the average population. Studies in the UK have shown elite male soccer players to have as little as 6% body fat, compared to the 25-30% norm of the average UK male.
Lean muscle mass is essential to develop the fast-twitch muscles that soccer players rely on to accelerate and decelerate quickly and rapidly change direction as they move on the field. These are the same muscles sprinters rely on to propel themselves into quick bursts of speed.
However, developing fast-twitch muscles in soccer is even more complicated than for sprinters. Sprinters do not have to change direction, slow down or face off against opponents on the track. In fact, professional soccer players have to constantly train and repeat drills to keep fast-twitch muscles in the best shape possible throughout their careers.
They also maintain carefully planned protein-rich diets to stay lean and powerful.
Strength vs. Fitness
So far, we have considered strength in opposition to weakness (which some see in soccer players). But you can also oppose weakness with fitness, as opposed to strength. By this measure, soccer players are incredibly fit athletes.
One objective measure of fitness to consider is the amount of oxygen consumed relative to body mass every second. Known as a VO2 Max score, this suggests the amount of oxygen your muscles draw per second and works as an index for the intensity of the tasks they perform.
VO2 Max scores top out at around 35-40 for the average male. Top soccer players, on the other hand, score between 60-70 by this measure. This suggests that they are performing significantly higher-intensity tasks, hardly an indication of weakness!
How Do Soccer Players Compare to Other Athletes?
As we’ve seen, soccer players are among the fittest athletes in the world. However, the specific nature of their sport means they do not possess as much brute strength and power as some other sportspersons.
Although there is no objective measure of how soccer players compare to other athletes, differences in physique between soccer players and players of other sports are telling.
Basketball players, for instance, are taller. Heavyweight boxers, powerlifters, and wrestlers in the top weight categories all possess more bulk and a more significant percentage of fat than body weight.
A survey of sports scientists working for the US Olympic Committee conducted by ESPN ranks soccer as the 10th most demanding sport. The experts on the panel rank each sport by ten specific measures to arrive at this conclusion.
- The ability to overcome fear
- Strategic and reactive ability
- Coordination capability, and
- The ability to absorb physical stress
On strength and power, soccer ranked well below sports like boxing, wrestling, and weightlifting. It even ranked lower than sports like American football, ice hockey, basketball, swimming, and many track disciplines.
However, it ranked highly on speed and endurance, demanded the most agility of any sport on the list, and was tied in the top place for strategic and reactive ability (with auto racing and ice hockey).
Boxing was deemed the most demanding sport overall, and many others, such as basketball and ice hockey, ranked higher than soccer. But even if we don’t consider it an objectively determined fact, soccer’s high rating means that top pros are likely to be anything but soft.
Soccer players may not be the biggest, tallest, or strongest athletes compared to sportspersons from disciplines that rely more on power, such as boxing, wrestling, and American Football. But they need to move faster for more sustained periods while simultaneously performing incredible feats of coordination.
The game’s features demand excellent core strength, speed, agility, and endurance. The impression that soccer players are weak is wrong. They are amongst the fittest professional athletes in the world today.
- Soccer Today: Soccer Players: Importance of Core Strength
- Perfect Soccer Skills: The Importance of Strength in Soccer
- Gizmodo: How Far Do You Run Playing Different Sports?
- Starter Soccer: Why Does My Ankle Hurt When I Play Soccer?
- Coach: How Fit is an Elite Footballer?
- Soccer Drill Book: Developing Soccer Speed – Fast Twitch Muscle
- ESPN: Degree of Difficulty: Sport Rankings