The work of coaches and strength and conditioning coaches is to train the players as well as possible to be successful on the pitch. This involves trying to match or even increase the physical, technical and tactical requirements of a match in training tasks. Football players must be prepared for maximum demand scenarios during a match (the so-called “worst-case scenarios”). Understanding the demands of the game seems to be vitally important for improving a player’s capabilities. This is why we are interested to know what will football look like in the future. We must anticipate this during training to prepare the players as well as possible.
Several studies published in recent years give us some clues on what the game will be like in the near future.1,2,3 Wallace and Norton (2014) studied the evolution of the game by taking the World Cup Finals from 1966 to 2010 as an example. According to their results, it is possible to simulate what a football match will look like in the future by using different regression models for five-game indicators:
- Real game time (%) = 539,8 ─ 0.2419 x X, r=0.44; p=0.032.
- Ball speed (m/s) = ─42,958 + 0.026 x X, r=0.446; p=0.029.
- Pass frequency per minute = ─166.194 + 0.090 x X, r=0.796 p=0.0001.
- Duration of free kicks not on goal (s) = ─277.50 + 0.148 x X, r=0.18; p=0.0001.
- Duration of free kicks on goal (s) = ─1088.4 + 0.573 x X, r=0.36; p=0.0104.
The real-time of game play decreased significantly in the period 1966–2010, going from 64.23% to 53.66%. In 2030 this value could be 48.74%. The ball speed increased noticeably in the period 1966–2010: almost 1.20 m/s. If this trend is maintained, it will reach 9.73 m/s in 2030. The frequency of passes per minute increased from 10.75 passes in 1966 to 14.71 in 2010. In 2030 it could rise to 16.51 passes per minute. The duration of free kicks to the goal as well as those not, have also significantly increased. Players spend more time to take free kicks, especially those on goal. In 2026 it is expected for a free-kick to take 74.79 seconds, compared to the 38.12 in 1966.
The physical performance profile has also changed in recent years. According to various studies,4,5 the total distance covered by football players is similar now to 10 years ago. However, the number of sprints and high-intensity actions has increased, and the distance covered during these efforts has decreased in recent seasons. In other words, more interventions at high intensity but with shorter duration and distance.
Ultimately, it seems that football will continue to evolve towards a faster game, where the technical level of the players will be higher, and where high-intensity efforts will be more of a determining factor. Game time will progressively decrease until there is more time without the players playing than time with the ball in play. Additionally, dead ball situations will gain more importance. It will become a more intermittent sport. Coaches, strength and conditioning coaches and other members of the coaching staff will have to bear this evolution in mind in order to prepare the players for matches in the best way possible.
Carlos Lago Peñas
1 Barreira, D., Garganta, J., Castellano, J., Prudente, J., & Anguera, M.T. (2014). Evolución del ataque en el fútbol de élite entre 1982 y 2010: Aplicación del análisis secuencial de retardos. Revista de Psicología del Deporte, 23(1), 139-146.
2 Kuhn, T. (2005). Changes in Professional Soccer: a qualitative and quantitative study. In T. Reilly, J. Cabri & D. Araújo (Eds.), Science and Football V (pp. 184-195). London: E & FN Spon.
3Wallace, J.K. & Norton, K.I. (2014). Evolution of World Cup soccer finals games 1966-2010: Game structure, speed and play pattern. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 17(2), 223-228.
4 Barnes, C.; Archer, D.T.; Hogg, B.; Bush, M. & Bradley, P.S. (2014). The evolution of physical and technical performance parameters in the English Premier League. International Journal of Sport Medicine, 35(13), 1095-1100.
5 Bush, M. Barnes, C.; Archer, D.T.; Hogg, B.; Bush, M. & Bradley, P.S. (2015). Evolution of match performance parameters for various playing position in the English Premier League. Human Movement Science, 39, 1-11.