There are numerous fitness factors that are important in soccer. I have already described how much a player runs in soccer and in another article, I talked about how training can be manipulated to improve endurance.
Why the focus on endurance, when probably the biggest change in the game is the speed at which the game is played? Competitive male players cover about two-thirds of the game (females about three-fourths) at a walk or a jog. The better the endurance, the faster pace one can cover this large part of the game meaning the faster you get from one place on the field to another.
Also, the better the endurance, the faster one recovers from each hard run.
But how much endurance is enough? Obviously, the soccer player doesn't need the endurance of a marathoner, and along the spectrum of athletes, the endurance of the soccer player is really pretty average. But as team sports go, their endurance is among the best because the game demands decent endurance to be successful.
But again, how much is enough? How can a coach confirm that their team's endurance is improving or that their endurance is sufficient for play? The best way to tell if a player has good endurance is to test their endurance. That's pretty obvious, but how?
There are many tests of endurance. Here is a brief list of test methods:
An athlete works progressively harder on a treadmill or cycle until they are unable to continue. Expired air is analyzed during the test and a statement of aerobic capacity is calculated as oxygen consumption in ml O2 / kg / min. Advantages: the gold standard for endurance testing. Disadvantages: expensive; requires a lab and skilled personnel to administer and interpret; only test one at a time; not soccer-specific running.
A team runs around a track as far as they can in 12 minutes. The results correlate to VO2 max. The score is how far the player ran in 12 minutes. Advantages: easy; only need a stopwatch and people to count laps. Disadvantages: pure endurance running, not soccer-specific running.
These are 20-meter shuttle tests paced by an audiotape. There is a beep to start running, a beep when to arrive and turn at the 20-meter point, then a beep for when you are be back at the start line. The beeps continue until the athlete fails to keep the pace set by the audiotape. The score is the total distance covered (number of runs x 40 meters). Advantages: easy to do; you can test many players at once; just need the tape and a "boom box." Disadvantage: tears the field up (at the turn-around point).
There are many types of beep tests (also called Yo-Yo tests), but they all fall into one of two categories:
- Continuous beep tests: In this method, the athlete runs continuously as there is no break. The pace gradually increases.
- Intermittent beep tests: The pace gradually increases, but in this method, after each run, there is a brief (usually 10 seconds) recovery period.
There are other tests out there, but all are variations on these themes: lab test, timed distance run, beep tests.
I favor the intermittent beep test for a couple of reasons:
- It is soccer-specific running. Run for a distance (20 meters) change direction, run again (20 meters), then a brief rest.
- Other tests correlate better with VO2 max (like the 12-minute run and continuous beep), but this correlates with what is important to the coach: how far the player runs during the game.
Circumstances had a series of soccer players tested using the continuous beep test one day. About two weeks later, a subset of the first group was tested using the intermittent beep test. Using the continuous beep test, the goalkeepers were very close or even equal to the field players in total distance run. When tested using the intermittent beep test, the field players outran the goalkeepers by over 25 percent, which makes more intuitive sense for soccer.
Back to the question: How much endurance is needed? Using the Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test (its formal name), high school girls should be approaching 700+ meters and college should be near or over 1,000 meters.
National level women are typically 1,500 meters or higher and some exceptional players are over 2,000 meters. High school boys should be close to 1,000 meters, with national-level boys in the 1,500- to 2,000-plus-meter area.
These are all level 1 tests (slower start and slower progression). World-class adult men should be around 900 to 1,000 meters or more on the level 2 test (a faster start and much faster progression).