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IS FITNESS MORE IMPORTANT THAN GOOD TECHNIQUE IN SOCCER?

Updated: Jan 15, 2021

In almost every sport, fitness is a precondition to optimal performance. But, in soccer, it is paramount because of the intrinsic fitness demands of the sport. The following (kind-of humorous) online article: How Far Do You Run Playing Different Sports? (“Sports Comparison Article”) compared the running demands of key sports and found that soccer players run far more than players in other sports:


Soccer: 7 to 9.5 miles/game

Tennis (5 sets): 3 to 5 miles/game

(NBA) Basketball: 2.5 to 3 miles/game

(NFL) Football: 1.25 miles/game

(MLS) Baseball: .05 miles/game


The science in the Sports Comparison Article is based on SportsVU technology, a specialized, artificial intelligence, motion-tracking system that tracks distance-running statistics. This Sports VU research indicates that the average distance run by elite soccer players is seven (7) miles per (90-minute) game in any position (except the goalkeeper), while midfield players tend to run a maximum of nine-and-a-half (9.5) miles. This research is supported by other online articles, such as Is Soccer the Fittest Sport?, which assert that soccer players run a minimum of six (6) miles per game.


I have always empirically posited that fitness is more paramount in soccer than technique due to the sheer endurance-demands of the sport, which includes sprinting, jogging, and frequent changes of direction counterbalanced in light of tactical requirements, physical play, and technical skill. Now, with solid statistical evidence to buttress my suspicions, I have engaged in this polemical argument with colleagues: Is fitness more important than good technique in soccer? My answer is Yes, due to the reasons stated below. And, thus, a weekly training regimen in soccer must perforce focus more on fitness than technique, especially the older a given player becomes, or the more elite such player becomes.


The counter-argument by advocates of technique over fitness is that possessing the former gives an elite player an advantage, regardless of his/her fitness level, because such player could elude an adversary with a good first-touch into open space, with a creative dribbling-move, with a flick of the ball over an opponent, etc. Certainly, an intelligent or experienced soccer player with good technique might be able to outsmart an adversary for an entire match. But even this statement begs the question whether technique without fitness is conducive to optimal performance. (We are not striving for adequate or good performance, but rather for optimal performance.) In my opinion, science militates against adopting such theory.


Proponents of technique over fitness assume – without proving the issue – that muscular movement could be achieved effectively during a 90-minute, intense match, with constant pressure applied by an adversary, without an efficient (not to mention optimal) cardiovascular and pulmonary system. Assumption is not tantamount to scientific fact. Regardless of what type of fitness we are discussing, whether it be aerobic or anaerobic fitness – an efficient cardiovascular and pulmonary conditioning-regimen is a precondition to muscular movement, which is what an elite player requires to execute a good technique.


Why is this so? Biochemistry provides the answer. The cellular-metabolic processes, such as muscle contraction, the transport of nutrients and oxygen in and out of capillaries, and protein synthesis, all require the hydrolysis of adenosine triphosphate (“ATP”) in an oxygen-deprived environment or in an oxygen-prone environment, as the case may be, in order to produce the energy required for continuous muscular-movement. The hydrolysis of ATP is too perplexing a topic for extensive discussion in this blog piece. But, it suffices to describe it generally to prove my point. The energy required for muscular movement is produced from a complex, biochemical process in the mitochondria of muscle-cells requiring the break-down of ATP to adenosine diphosphate (“ADP”) (by losing a phosphate molecule) and its regeneration (by adding a phosphate molecule to ADP) in either the Cori Cycle (an oxygen-deprived organic environment) or in the Kreb Cycle (an oxygen-prone organic environment), as the case may be. And the more efficient the cardiovascular and pulmonary systems become – via anaerobic and aerobic conditioning – the more efficient ATP hydrolysis becomes in either environment.


Without this metabolic, cellular process resulting in ATP-hydrolysis, an elite player would not be able to execute a soccer-specific technique, nor a tactical decision on the field, because he would be too fatigued to make a complex thought in milliseconds, not to mention an efficient muscular movement, such as that required for dribbling, trapping, passing, or shooting a soccer ball. Consequently, since muscle movement is a fortiori dependent on ATP-hydrolysis, and since the latter is inextricably enhanced by anaerobic or aerobic conditioning – or fitness, generally defined – technique cannot prevail over fitness in soccer. Fitness, therefore, not technique, is a prerequisite to optimal performance. Any soccer player that has played at a very high-level could empirically affirm this point. Certainly, exceptions will arise, but, statistical evidence plus biochemistry now provide the premises for a cogent, logical argument in favor of fitness over perfecting technique as the main focus of soccer training (even if we could not prove it factually as applicable to each soccer player).


© (2019) Rafael A. Castro, III, Esq.,

CEO of RAC Elite Soccer Services, Inc. and O.R.T.A. Professional Soccer Academy

All rights reserved.

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