Ask any athlete, and they’ll probably tell you that their favorite sport requires more strategy, fitness, and overall skill than any other sport. But, comparing each of these characteristics for soccer and basketball is a bit tricky. They’re both difficult and complicated in their own ways.
Soccer takes more skill than basketball. Soccer players run 2.5 times the distance of a basketball player at about double the speed. Soccer players have to work with six extra teammates on the field. In terms of pro stats, a soccer player might score 50% of shots while a basketball player is near 70%.
Each of these sports is highly complex when it comes to skill, strategy, and fitness needed to be successful. So, let’s go in-depth and compare basketball and soccer to see which one requires more skill.
Is Soccer More Physically Demanding Than Basketball?
Skill is the most important part of being a successful athlete. But, your level of physical fitness is what gives you an edge over an opponent as you near the end of a match or game. So, let’s talk about how soccer and basketball compare with regard to physical demand on your body.
Distance Run per Game
There’s no doubt about it – A soccer field is much larger in size than the typical basketball court. (Check out this article I wrote giving you all the details about how big a soccer field is.) And, there’s definitely a connection between this massive size difference and how far these athletes run per game.
So, let’s check out some stats from Gizmodo.
Basketball is a game that requires a lot of sprinting up and down the 94-foot court. Despite the sheer amount of sprinting, the highest recorded distance in a single basketball game was a mere 2.72 miles by Chicago Bull’s star Luol Deng.
That’s an impressive amount of running, but it’s nowhere near as much a soccer player runs.
Soccer is more of an endurance game that has a significantly wider and longer field. Most field players in soccer will end up running about 7 miles per game. But, a midfielder that spends an entire game sprinting up and down the 130-yard field might run an impressive 9.5 miles instead.
The Winner: Soccer
Check out the video below, showing how far soccer players run during a game.
Length of Games
Running quickly is one thing – Running quickly for an extended period of time is a completely different story.
Such is the case in the debate between soccer and basketball.
The average basketball game will last 48 minutes in total. This playing time is separated into four 12-minute quarters, and there’s also 15 minutes of halftime about 24 minutes into the game.
While 48 minutes of sprinting are more than what most people can handle, you’re still not doing as much running or for as long as you would in soccer.
A soccer game is nearly twice as long as a basketball game at 90 minutes in length. This is divided into two 45-minute halves, 15 minutes of halftime, and possibly extra time added on after taking injuries and fouls into account. You could be in a soccer game for well over 90 minutes.
If you’re keeping track – Soccer requires over 2 ½ times more running, and soccer games last nearly twice as long, as compared to basketball.
The Winner: Soccer
Now, we’ve gone over distance and time. It’s time to calculate just how fast soccer and basketball players run (on average) during a game.
For basketball, 2.72 miles broken up over 48 minutes averages out to about a 17:39 mile. For comparison, this is within the average pace for walking a mile in America.
Soccer, on the other hand, calls for up to 9.5 miles of running over 90 minutes. That calculates out to a 9:28 mile. The average American would struggle with this running speed for only one mile, let alone over 9.
So, soccer is definitely a game about endurance and running quickly. You need significantly greater physical fitness, overall, with soccer.
The Winner: Soccer
Does Soccer Require More Strategy Than Basketball?
Basketball consists of five major positions – Point guards, small forwards, shooting guards, power forwards, and centers. And, a basketball game calls for five players on the court at a time per team.
In terms of strategy, it’s much easier to coordinate and organize a play with just five players.
You have much less space to organize your defense (either zone or man-to-man), and physically communicating with players on the court is less hectic. Basketball does require a lot of skill, but it’s much easier to maneuver around five opponents to get off a play.
Soccer is much more straightforward when it comes to positions, but each player takes on a much larger role when on the field.
Soccer usually consists of forwards, midfielders, defenders, and a goalie. In total, a soccer game has 11 players on the field at a time per team.
So, not only do you have to avoid 11 opponents to be able to get a shot on goal, but you and your ten other teammates have to be on the same page in terms of a strategy. With 22 players on the field, it’s easy to feel cluttered and be limited when it comes to direct shots, passing, and communication.
The speed, agility, and tactical awareness needed in soccer are definitely more advanced than in basketball.
The Winner: Soccer
Is Soccer More Technical Than Basketball?
A basketball hoop is approximately 18 inches in diameter. And, for reference, a men’s basketball is usually about 9.5 inches in diameter. So, you definitely have to have a pretty solid aim to get that 9.5-inch ball into an 18-inch hoop.
You also have to consider the fact that the highest field goal percentage (ratio of shots made) was just .727 in 1972-73 by Los Angeles superstar Wilt Chamberlain. Considering this is a professional basketball stat, the average basketball player’s FG% is likely much lower.
Soccer, on the other hand, obviously has a similarly sized ball and a much larger net. For reference, a soccer ball is less than 9 inches in diameter while a soccer goal is usually 24-feet wide and 8-feet tall.
But, getting past ten field players and a goalkeeper definitely complicates an accurate shot. That’s why Jamie Vardy had the best conversion rate (shots to goals) in European soccer with a mere 2.09 shots per goal. You won’t see this in an amateur player, but it’s worth noting.
In all, a basketball player might score seven shots out of every 10 (70%) while a soccer player might score 1 out of 2 (50%).
And, you also have to think about the end score of a game for each sport.
There are definitely more shots taken during a basketball game than in soccer. So, not only is an accurate shot in soccer more difficult, but there are also fewer opportunities to shoot in general.
Game awareness is a must in soccer, and even getting close to that 1 out of 2 shots requires a lot of hard work, skill, and eye-foot coordination.
The Winner: Soccer
Both basketball and soccer require strategy, fitness, and skill. At the same time, there’s a lot of evidence to prove that soccer takes much more skill than basketball. Here’s where soccer took the cake and how it compared to basketball:
- Distance run per game (approximately 2.5 times more)
- Length of the game (nearly two times more)
- Running speed (about two times as fast)
- Strategy (6 extra teammates and a larger field)
- Goal conversion
Remember, these stats are more for skilled and professional players. Amateur players are likely to see similar results, just scaled back a bit.
And if you want to become an expert at juggling a soccer ball, you need to check out this article I recently wrote.
- Gizmodo: How Far Do You Run Playing Different Sports?
- Wikipedia: Basketball Positions
- Wikipedia: Backboard
- Wikipedia: Ball
- Wikipedia: List of National Basketball Association annual field goal percentage leaders
- Planet Football: Comparing the conversion rates of the top 10 goalscorers in Europe
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