While watching sports, have you ever stopped (midway through a bowl of Cheetos) to wonder, "How far are those guys actually running?" It's a common question, one that's historically been subject mostly to guesswork, Thanks to some recent technological developments, though, we can now actually apply some data to it.
So which of your heroes are putting in the hard yards?
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There's an old wives' tale that the average NBA player will run five miles every game. Not quite. Many NBA teams have started using a system called SportVU, a specialized motion tracking system that enabling teams to get far more detailed stats about their players. In the 2012 season, the player that ran the farthest per game was Luol Deng of the Chicago Bulls, who averaged 2.72 miles per game. That's no where near the five mile myth, but considering how much of that is sprinting, it's still very impressive.
Football players have an expansive 100-yard field, and spend hours moving up and down it. So it would seem like they do a lot of running. That's true enough—while the ball is in play. But according to the Wall Street Journal, players are only actually moving for 11 minutes on average during an NFL game. Only 11 minutes of action! The rest is mostly standing around, with the occasional momentum-killing penalty review thrown in for good measure.
Kinda breaks the heart, doesn't it? Again, turning to a chart over at SportVU, it seems that even the players that run the most (cornerbacks and wide receivers, generally) only run about 1.25 miles per game. That said, some of them are reaching speeds of 21.5 miles per hour, which is scary fast for dudes that size.
How far you run in tennis depends on what style of game you play. Some players stay close to the back line and move back and forth a lot, some games only go three sets, some go five, etc. Tennis has been keeping track of running stats for quite a while now, though, and you often seen those number during TV broadcasts.
It's not uncommon for a player to run more than three miles during a five set match, though in more extreme cases, players have run more than five. That is particularly impressive when you consider how tiny a tennis court is (27 feet wide for singles). We're talking about hundreds (maybe thousands) of sharp directional changes. Makes the knees scream just thinking about it. This image is from the final set of the final match of the 2012 Australian open. The distances covered (bottom right) is for the entire tournament. That's spread out over seven matches, but keep in mind that most of those matches only lasted three sets.
Ah-hahahahaha. Seriously? C'mon, cut it out. Most baseball players won't run 100 yards during the course of a game, unless you count the slow trot on and off the field between innings. The bases are only 90 feet apart, so even if you hit three homers in a game, that's only 1,080 feet. Even if an outfielder did that and chased balls like crazy on defensive he probably wouldn't break half a mile. Nobody measures how far baseball players are running, because nobody cares and the answers would likely just be embarrassing.
This shouldn't surprise anyone who's played the game, but soccer players (also know as "football players" if you come from a little place called "Everywhere That Isn't the United States") run their balls off. Games last 90 minutes, they have a large field (between 100 yards and 130 yards long and 50 to 100 yards wide), the ball is constantly in motion and may travel great distances in a matter of seconds, requiring the players to give chase. Obviously, there is some variation depending on the position they play—midfielders run the most; the goalie not so much—but it's not uncommon for a player to average seven miles per game. Seven! SportVU has tracked players running as much as 9.5 miles in a game.
So, if someday you find yourself betting on an inter-sport half-marathon, the smart money is on the soccer player. Those guys have some serious endurance chops. In contrast, I guess we know why baseball is the American pastime. Whatever, pass the Pringles.
Top Image credit: Getty Images/Al Messerschmidt
Huddle Image credit: Getting Images/Christian Petersen