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Dec 2011
Women and Football

Professional Football

Maite Gómez

Since 1991 when the first World Cup took place, women’s football has boomed and developed according to the latest survey conducted by FIFA from its 207 member associations. The so-called ‘Great Census 2006’ (FIFA 2007) shows that in the last 6 years the number of players has increased from 22 million to 26 million. This 16.8% increase represents 10% of the total of all players, men and women, which is 265 million.

If this growth actually is a sign of a sport’s development like women’s football, it is still far from reaching the expectations of President Joseph Blatter who, in 2000, set as a priority the development of women’s football, estimating that by 2010 women’s football would have the same number of participants as the men’s game. (FIFA 2007).

A result of the rise in interest of the game has been the studies and research, hitherto little known, which have been carried out on women’s football and the demands it requires.

Although the majority of the investigations carried out up to now have tackled the anthropometric, physical and physiological characteristics of the players (Davis and Brewer, 1992; Jensen & Larsson, 1993; Juric, Sporis & Vatroslav, 2007; Polman, 2003), studies are beginning to appear on the development and demands of competition.

In this regard, we have seen the analysis of physical activity that a player demonstrates during the course of a match through external indicators (parameters that are directly observable which allow us to evaluate the load) amongst which the distance covered, the type and intensity of movements, the duration of movements, the intensity breakdown, the ratio activity-rest, jumps etc all stand out.

Hewitt, Withers & Lyons (2007) carried out research with Australian International players using GPS. The total distance covered during a match was 9.140±1.030 m. These figures are slightly lower than those of Premier League players (10,617m) and of the Spanish First Division (10,496m) (Dellal et al., 2011); and of the Brazilian First Division (10,012 m) (Barros et al., 2007), although it should be pointed out that these figures are measured with different technology.

If we analyse the data by function, the defenders run an average of 9,010m (7,200 – 9,760m), the midfield 9,640m (7620 – 10960m) and attackers 8,510m (8490 – 9440m).

These average distances were taken for elite players at the Women’s European Championship 2005, covering an average of 11,979m (Scott & Drust 2007). We have to treat these figures with caution as the technology used to measure them were taken using only one camera using the Reilly T. 1976 equation and the latest Tracking systems use at least 8 cameras, employing much more elaborate equations adapted specifically to today’s football.

Position (N=30) Distance Run (metres)
Full Backs 12.636 ± 419
Centre Backs 11.099 ± 1.399
Midfielders 12.971 ± 537
Forwards 11.804 ± 1.276
Average 11.979 ± 1.325
Total Distance run by Position. Elite Women Players (Scott & Drust 2007)

But even more interesting than the analysis of the total metres covered was the analysis of the effort profile by position:

Speed (km/h) Locomotor DescriptionMatch Total Distance  Mean(SD)
0-5 Slow walking2400 (120)  26% 
5-8 Walking2100 (110)  23%
8-12 Low speed running2330 (190)  26%
12-16 Moderate speed running1410 (160)  15%
16-20 High speed running620 (110) 7%
20+ Sprinting280 (80)  3%
TOTAL  9140 (1030)
Effort profile of Australian Women Internationals (Hewitt, Withers & Lyons 2007)

These differences for position are also seen in men players.

Distance run (m) Defenders Centre backsDefenders Full backsHolding midfielderOfensive midfielderWingersStrikers
Total 10.49610.65011.24711.00411.24110.718
High intensity > 21 km/h 426534483501535549
Sprint > 24 km/h 194249203222251260
Effort profile for Spanish First Division players (Dellal et al 2011)

It is not possible to compare the metres run in high intensity for women and men players as the type of technology used to measure them is different as well as for measurement of speed.

To finish this first attempt to look at women’s football, it is important to point out that some studies (Krustrup & Mohr 2007) have shown that there is no significant reduction in the total distance run in the second half of a match compared to the first half (in men’s football this reduction can be 5%) (Mohr, 2003; Bangsbo, 1991; Briedhle, 2000) although it depends on the league and level of players. Nevertheless there are studies that show that there is no difference between the two halves. (Di Salvo V et al, 2007).

It has also been observed that the total distance run for Norwegian women players during the course of a match was greater in International matches (10.0 ± 0.5 km) than in League matches (9.7 ± 0.6 km), and the number of high intensity runs were greater in International matches than in League games (1.6 ± 0.4 vs. 1.4 ± 0.4 km), so this is also influenced by the type of league (Krustrup & Mohr, 2007).

In the next few years we can hope for a bigger development and expansion of women’s football together with an improvement in the setting of the relevant parameters for the performance of players in competition.

We believe it is necessary to develop research in this area to understand more deeply the physiological and energy processes and game and competition behaviour which will give us a specific understanding of women’s football.