Comparing soccer to basketball can be challenging. Both sports are unique in different ways. But when we take the time to look at both sports side by side, you will quickly see that one is harder than the other. Let me answer the question of whether soccer is harder than basketball.
Soccer is harder than basketball. Soccer players are required to run further than basketball players, they must work with more teammates, and it is harder for a soccer player to score from a shot at goal compared to a basketball player.
There is no doubt that both soccer and basketball players require great skill, ability, and technical expertise to be the best. But one sport demands a little more from its participants.
In this article, we’ll look at both sports in detail, and I’ll show you why soccer is undoubtedly harder than basketball.
Soccer is More Physically Demanding Than Basketball
There are multiple elements to becoming a top athlete. And being skilled at a sport is one of the most important.
In fact, in my recent article – Does soccer take more skill than basketball? – I looked specifically at how a player’s level of skill differs between soccer and basketball.
But, your level of physical fitness is what is going to set you apart from your opponents throughout a match or game.
Just look at this video below of Cristiano Ronaldo’s fitness regime to see what I mean.
In soccer, many physical demands are placed on the players that are not replicated in basketball.
Let’s quickly have a look at three of them.
1. Distance Run per Game
You don’t need me to tell you that a soccer field is much bigger than a basketball court. You only need to have seen each of them once to know this is true.
Because of the difference in size, it should come as no surprise that soccer players run much further during a game than basketball players do.
They have to just cover the extra surface area of the soccer pitch!
To prove this point, let’s have a look at some stats.
A basketball court is 94-foot long, and the nature of the sport requires a huge amount of sprinting up and down the court from the players.
Despite the constant sprinting you see from the players during a basketball game, the highest recorded distance run by a player in a single basketball game was a mere 2.72 miles (4.4 km). Chicago Bull’s star Luol Deng achieved this distance.
Although that may seem like a lot of running (and it’s definitely not insignificant), it doesn’t come close to the distance an average soccer player runs during a game.
Most soccer players will run approximately 7 miles (11.3 km) in a game. A midfielder who plays in the center of a soccer field often runs farther than any other player and can reach distances of over 9.5 miles (15.3 km) during a game.
Soccer uses a playing area that is much wider and longer than a basketball court, and the distances covered by the players of each sport reflect this reality.
Soccer is harder than basketball when comparing distance run by individual players.
2. Length of Games
Although both sports require the players to run at high speed for a game’s duration, the longer a player has to run at speed, the harder and more tiring it becomes.
This is a significant factor in the comparison of soccer and basketball.
Most basketball games last for 48 minutes in total. Each game is separated into four 12-minute quarters. There are also 15 minutes of halftime that takes place about 24 minutes into the game.
Although 48 minutes of sprinting is impressive, and many people would struggle with this, this is only about half the length of time a soccer game lasts.
At a minimum of 90 minutes in length, a soccer game lasts around twice as long as a basketball game.
Divided into two 45-minute halves, a soccer game also includes a 15-minute halftime break but will often see extra time added onto the end of a game to account for any injuries, substitutions, or delays that occurred during the playing time.
Soccer not only requires the players to run over double the amount of distance that basketball players do, but it also expects them to run for longer.
This is another reason soccer is harder than basketball.
3. Speed the players run
Having looked at the distance the players of each sport are running and the length of time they are required to keep it up, I want to show you how fast the players run on average during a game.
Let’s base this on the data we uncovered above:
- A basketball player can run up to 2.72 miles (4.4 km) in a 48 minute period
- A soccer player can run up to 9.5 miles (15.3 km) over a minimum of 90 minutes
Let’s look at basketball first.
If a distance of 2.72 miles (4.4 km) is broken up over a length of 48 minutes, that averages out to a 17:39 mile. For comparison, this is within the range of an average pace for walking a mile in America. That really puts it into perspective, doesn’t it!
Now let’s look at soccer.
Some players achieve up to 9.5 miles (15.3 km) of running over 90 minutes in soccer. If you do the math, that works out to a 9:28 mile. The average American would struggle to keep up this running speed for a distance of only one mile, let alone over 9!
As a sport, soccer requires its players to run at pace over a relatively long period of time.
There is no doubt that a soccer player needs significantly greater physical fitness than a basketball player to succeed in their sport.
This is reason number 3 why soccer is harder than basketball.
Soccer Requires More Strategy Than Basketball
There are five major positions in basketball:
- Point guards,
- small forwards,
- shooting guards,
- power forwards,
- and centers.
A basketball game also allows each team to have five players on the court at one time.
Having a small number of players involved in a game at one time makes it significantly easier to coordinate and organize a play and makes it more straightforward to develop a strategy.
You have much less space to organize your defense (either zone or man-to-man), and communicating with the players on the court is less of an issue.
There’s no doubt that basketball is hard. Still, it’s much easier to maneuver around five opponents to get off a play than it would be to work around the 11 players involved in a soccer game.
I can see an argument for soccer being more straightforward when it comes to players’ positions on the field. But I would suggest that each soccer player takes on a much larger role in a game than a basketball player.
At a basic level, soccer positions consist of forwards, midfielders, defenders, and a goalkeeper. (You can find out much more about this in my article – Soccer Positions: A Complete Guide – if you’re interested).
There is always a maximum of 11 players on a soccer field at one time per team.
Not only does a team have to avoid 11 opponents to be in a position to shoot on goal, but every player has to be on the same page in terms of a strategy.
If just one player is not on board with what is happening, it can ruin that move for the entire team.
Having 22 players on the field at one time can quickly make the playing area feel full. Having that many players on simultaneously limits the opportunities for shots on goal, for successful passing, and clear communication.
The strategy and tactical awareness needed in soccer are on another level in soccer compared to basketball, making it much harder to play successfully.
Soccer is More Technical Than Basketball
The technical aspects of soccer also make it harder to play than basketball.
Let’s take the method of scoring points as an example.
A basketball hoop is approximately 18 inches (45.7 cm) in diameter, and a basketball is usually about 9.5 inches (24.1 cm) in diameter. So, to get a 9.5-inch (24.1 cm) ball into an 18-inch (45.7 cm) hoop, you need to have a pretty good aim.
Consider that the highest field goal percentage (ratio of shots to shots made) was just .727 in 1972-73 by Los Angeles superstar Wilt Chamberlain.
Considering that this is a professional basketball stat, it suggests that the average basketball player’s field goal percentage is likely to be much lower.
Now, soccer obviously has a smaller size ball but a much larger net to aim at. To give you the stats, a soccer ball is less than 9 inches in diameter, while a soccer goal is 24-feet wide and 8-feet tall.
At first glance, this can seem like it would be way easier to score in soccer. And this would be true if a player was standing in front of an empty goal net with no other players nearby.
In reality, getting past ten outfield players and a goalkeeper makes a successful shot far more complicated.
In the past few seasons, Leicester City soccer player Jamie Vardy has had the best conversion rate (shots to goals) in European soccer, with a ratio of only 2.09 shots per goal. This is phenomenal, and you are unlikely to see this in any amateur player.
But due to the low number of chances a soccer player gets to score, it is essential to make every opportunity count.
It’s not uncommon for a basketball player to score seven shots out of every 10 (70%), while a top-level soccer player might score 1 out of 2 (50%).
You should also consider the end score of a game for each sport.
Basketball games can sometimes end up with 3 figure scores, but in soccer, it rarely gets past 3 goals in total!
In soccer, there are far fewer shots taken at goal because the opportunities are so limited. It’s hard to create a chance to score.
In basketball, this is different. There are many opportunities to score, and players will score points from the majority of their attempts.
In soccer, a successful shot is much more complicated, and there are also fewer opportunities to shoot.
When it comes to scoring points, it is much harder to score in soccer than in basketball.
Both basketball and soccer are sports that require a lot of skill, talent, and hard work. But as I’ve shown, soccer is much harder than basketball.
Although the stats referenced in this article are more for professional players, amateur players are likely to see comparable results.
Alternatively have a look at my article – How to become an expert at juggling a soccer ball.