Amateur footballers dream of making it big. But how does their physical performance compare with the professionals?

When Playertek collected data from its users and compared this with the equivalent stats from a Premier League team, it was (unsurprisingly) clear that amateurs have some serious catch up to do.

However, the extent of the difference in performance varies a great deal depending on the metric and the position. For example, professional defenders cover almost 50% more distance than the amateurs in game, while amateur defenders are only slightly under-performing their professional counterparts when it comes to top speed.

We spoke to Chris Barnes, a sports scientist at Playertek’s parent company, Catapult Sports, to help make sense of the data. Catapult Sports is the market leader in elite sports performance technology, having worked with the likes of A.C. Milan, Ajax, PSG, Atletico Madrid, Brazil, Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Leicester, Newcastle, Rangers, Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur over the past 10 years.

Top speed (mps)Distance run (km)
AmateurProfessional% DifferenceAmateurProfessional% Difference
Attacker7.589.2021.377.759.6424.39
Midfielder7.068.4519.688.3711.2734.65
Defender6.878.1518.637.2710.5144.57
Average7.178.619.947.8010.4734.23

 

Top speed

Playertek discovered that professional attackers run 21% quicker than amateur players, with the average max speeds of professional attackers coming in at 9.2 metres per second, compared to 7.58 metres per second for a player at the amateur level. Some attackers, such as Southampton’s Shane Long, Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy and Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford achieve higher than this and rack up speeds of 9.8mps, 9.75mps and 9.78mps.

Professionals are, on average across all positions, only 20% faster than amateur players. An amateur can power through at 7.17 metres per second, compared to the elite level where professionals can reach 8.6 metres per second.

Chris Barnes, commenting on the figures, notes, “Though the numbers unsurprisingly show that professionals are faster, we must acknowledge that some amateurs will, in fact, be quicker than some professionals. This is, in part, due to genetics – a large component of an individual’s potential to achieve high running speeds is inherited. However, the training undertaken by professional players ensures most, if not all, can reach their genetic potential.”

“In many professional games, players won’t actually reach maximum speed – something to be applauded as this is often related to their capacity to ‘read’ and manage a game. However, if circumstances dictate, that extra speed is there to be called upon.”

However, Barnes notes that there is a clear difference between professional midfielders, with Catapult data from the anonymised premiership team finding that the average top speed of a wide midfielder is 9 metres per second, somewhat higher than the average of 7.9 metres per second for a centre-midfield player. Generally speaking, players will ‘migrate’ to play in positions for which they are physically and technically best suited, and the demands of top level wide play require players who possess high inherent speed.”


Distance run

Total distance run provides a global representation of volume of exercise and is also a simple way to assess individual’s contribution to a team effort. In a standard 90-minute Premier League game, players cover on average 10.47km, 34% more than the 7.8km covered by their amateur counterparts.

Barnes highlights that the difference can be attributed to many factors. “Game and running efficiency, technical factors, game ‘smartness’, and to a certain extent, differences in fitness, all play a role in differentiating between the demands of different levels of the game. The greater technical proficiency of professional players results in greater match ‘tempo’ and the ball being in play for a much greater proportion of a match, both of which a contributory factors in their superior running performances.”

When broken down by position, these differences become even more apparent; whilst large differences are evident between professional and amateur attackers (c25%) and midfielders (c35%), a huge differential is observed between professional defenders and their amateur counterparts (45% at 10.5km vs 7.27km respectively). Barnes notes that the evolution of the modern professional game results in defenders joining in much of the attacking plays of a team, something which is perhaps not as evident at the amateur level of the sport.

Barnes concludes by highlighting that in football in particular, “more isn’t necessarily better. It depends on circumstances, such as position, opposition and environmental factors on the day. The key is that professionals have the capacity for greater performances, but due to greater collective efficiency and football smartness, are not always called upon to draw upon these reserves.”

With Playertek, as an amateur footballer you can track how far you run, how fast you run, where you go on the pitch, how many sprints you make and how long they are. Using its intelligent software, you can then compare your performance against colleagues and professionals alike.

Notes to readers

*Amateur teams are defined as either five a side or 11-a-side players from non-league sides, normally made up of a group of friends or colleagues, as opposed to ‘sub-elite’ teams, such as teams in leagues 5-8.

*Data from professional players taken from an anonymised Premier League team.