What Sports Do Players Cover The Most Distance In?

fulham player with gambling logo sponsor on shirtProfessional athletes are amongst the fittest people in the world. On that front, we’re not talking about distance runners, the entire point of whom’s training is to be able to run a certain amount in the fastest time possible. Rather, we’re considering sports people that play a specific sport, such as football or tennis, and happen to cover long distances as part of their training. For most people, the idea of running a ten-kilometre race is not something that sounds like fun, yet in some teams footballers do that at the same times as dealing with the ball.

Other sports are much more stop-start, such as rugby, but contain intense bursts of movement during the event. This high intensity interval exercise is something that personal trainers or fitness coaches recommend for those looking to get into shape, but they do ask less of the athlete than having to run in an almost continuous sense. That isn’t to say that a sport like tennis or even football doesn’t have moments of pause, but they are much less frequent than in a sport such as rugby or in the world of American football or similar.


football tactics boardWhere else to start but with the world’s most popular sport? Not that it is necessarily all that easy to cover the issue of how far a player can be expected to run during the course of 90 minutes. For the purposes of ease, we’re looking at a full match, as opposed to a game that goes to extra-time or penalties. Equally, it is key to look at an average, given that different players will be asked to perform different roles even if they are nominally playing in the same position. A centre-back won’t cover as much distance as a right-back, for example.

On top of that, different managers will ask for different tactics from their teams. A Jürgen Klopp side, as an example, will be asked to run a huge amount more than a team managed by the likes of Sam Allardyce. Managers that are defensively-minded will be the sort to ask for less running from their players as they look to be difficult to breakdown, whilst those that believe that pressing the opponent is the best way to force them into a mistake will be quick to get their players constantly running and looking to close down space and passing lanes.

The CIES Football Observatory looked at 7,855 matches across 31 leagues, based in both Europe and the Americas. What they discovered was that outfield played covered an average of 99.99 kilometres per match between them. Given that there are ten outfield players in a team, that equates to 9.99 kilometres per player. Some leagues, such as La Liga in Spain, asked players to run more (103.7 kilometres) than others, with the Brazilian Serie A seeing players cover 95.8 kilometres on average. They also discovered that, perhaps unsurprisingly, midfielders covered the greatest distance in a team.


wet tennis ball spraying waterOne of the sports that is perhaps easiest to compare to football is tennis. That might sound silly when you think about the two sports, but tennis players are running intensely during points and then resting in between the competition for a point, which is similar to the way that footballers will run intensely and then take a break for a throw-in, corner or substitution. There is even the fact that footballers will tend to run for a long time waiting for a break in place, just as tennis players can be involved in long rallies before getting a rest.

Just as footballers will run different lengths to each other depending on their position and the playing style that they adopt, so too will tennis players run either further or less far than each other depending on their playing style. As an example, David Ferrer, known for his agility as well as his speed, covered about 6.2 miles across three matches. Novak Djokovic, on the other hand, ran somewhere between 2.5 and 3.1 miles during the same amount of matches. In women’s tennis, the same was true between Caroline Wozniaki and Serena Williams, with six miles comparing to 2.8 miles.

On average, a tennis player is likely to run about three miles during a match. To give you a sense of how far that is compared to football players, three miles is about 4.8 kilometres. Though that might seem unimpressive compared to footballers, it is worth bearing in mind that tennis courts measure around 78 feet by 36 feet, so that is a huge amount of back-and-forth running that players are having to do. Tennis matches also last an average of two sets, which will be about an hour and a half, whilst matches that are best-of-five sets will be about two hours and 45 minutes long.


rugby league matchIt would be entirely fair of you to assume that a sport like rugby is much more stop-start than football. Football is played at a much faster-pace, asking a lot more of its players than a rugby game does in a literal sense of running and sprinting. Of course, rugby players take a much more physical toll as they’re involved in a game, which adds its own challenge. For rugby players, the chance to really open their legs and run is much more limited, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t clock up any sort of distance during a game.

As with football, there are different positions that players can play and that will ask different things of them. Forwards will cover less distance than backs, for example, to say nothing of the fact that the exercise involved is much less intense. The use of GPS devices tells us that players spent about 70% of a match standing, 25% jogging and only 5% running at speed. On average, a rugby league player will cover about 6.9 kilometres during the course of a match, whilst a rugby union player will run around 6.7 kilometres.

American Football

red zone american football playerThe most obvious game to compare rugby to is American football, which feels as though it has the same genesis as it but with more pads. It won’t shock you to learn that how far a player will run during the course of the match will be dictated by a number of factors, which include the likes of what position they play and what the team’s tactics are for the game in question. If you have ever sat down to watch a game of American football you will no doubt have noticed how rarely the ball seems to be in play, which tends to work with the desire to cram loads of adverts in.

Indeed, a match in the National Football League sees the ball remain in play for just 11 minutes on average. Fair to say, then, that American football players have it easier than any of their sporting colleagues. That doesn’t mean that they don’t need to have a huge level of fitness if they’re to take part in a match, of course. Like rugby players, they see an incredible physical toll taken out on their bodies, which can play out over the course of a lifetime. In terms of simple running, though, they’re likely to run about 2.01 kilometres on average.


moody skies bringing rain above a cricket ground in southampton hosting an england gameIf you want to talk about a sport in which different roles require different skillsets, cricket is perhaps the very best example that we can find. When it comes to fielding, a wicket-keeper is expected to do little movement other than jumping from side to side when the ball comes at them. A fielder will be required to run every now and then if a ball comes their way on the field, but that is nothing when compared to what a bowler is going to have to do. Even bowlers will differ depending on their style, with spin bowlers taking short run-ups when compared to fast bowlers.

Then there is the batting team, which requires the batters to rack up runs when they don’t manage to just smash the ball to the boundary. Finally, there is a big difference between one-day cricket and test cricket, with the different formats asking different physical requirements of the players. In Australia’s Big Bash League, for example, players ran between 1.77 kilometres and 6.54 kilometres during games that lasted anywhere from 40.4 minutes to 96.5 minutes. In other words, it isn’t an easy question to answer.

What It Works Out As

SportAverage Distance Run In Kilometres
American Football2.01

It is all but impossible to offer a definitive answer to how far a player in any particular sport is likely to run during match. That is especially the case the more convoluted the rules of a sport are, which is why it is so difficult to be able to figure it out for cricket. That being said, We can, at least, look at some rough averages to give us a sense of how far a player will or won’t be required to run depending on their chosen sport. Here’s how that works out:

Each sport has its own skillset required to be successful, but it is fair to say that football players tend to run the furthest out of all of the major sports that we tend to watch in Europe. There are doubtless other sports, such as Aussie Rules, that ask the players to run further than footballers have to, but as they aren’t mainstream over here there is not much point in considering them.