Science of winning soccer : emergent pattern-forming dynamics in association football

Vilar, Luis, Araujo, Duarte, & Davids, Keith W. (2013) Science of winning soccer : emergent pattern-forming dynamics in association football. Journal of Systems Science and Complexity, 26(1), pp. 73-84.

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Quantitative analysis is increasingly being used in team sports to better understand performance in these stylized, delineated, complex social systems. Here we provide a first step toward understanding the pattern-forming dynamics that emerge from collective offensive and defensive behavior in team sports. We propose a novel method of analysis that captures how teams occupy sub-areas of the field as the ball changes location. We used the method to analyze a game of association football (soccer) based upon a hypothesis that local player numerical dominance is key to defensive stability and offensive opportunity. We found that the teams consistently allocated more players than their opponents in sub-areas of play closer to their own goal. This is consistent with a predominantly defensive strategy intended to prevent yielding even a single goal. We also find differences between the two teams' strategies: while both adopted the same distribution of defensive, midfield, and attacking players (a 4:3:3 system of play), one team was significantly more effective both in maintaining defensive and offensive numerical dominance for defensive stability and offensive opportunity. That team indeed won the match with an advantage of one goal (2 to 1) but the analysis shows the advantage in play was more pervasive than the single goal victory would indicate. Our focus on the local dynamics of team collective behavior is distinct from the traditional focus on individual player capability. It supports a broader view in which specific player abilities contribute within the context of the dynamics of multiplayer team coordination and coaching strategy. By applying this complex system analysis to association football, we can understand how players' and teams' strategies result in successful and unsuccessful relationships between teammates and opponents in the area of play.

Impact and interest:

32 citations in Scopus
25 citations in Web of Science®
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ID Code: 67696
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
Keywords: Collective behavior, performance analysis, team sports
DOI: 10.1007/s11424-013-2286-z
ISSN: 1009-6124
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > MEDICAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES (110000) > HUMAN MOVEMENT AND SPORTS SCIENCE (110600)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Current > Institutes > Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2013 The Editorial Office of JSSC & Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg
Deposited On: 14 Oct 2014 00:17
Last Modified: 20 Jul 2017 19:01

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