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Measuring Soccer Success with Mathematics

June 24, 2010  

With the 2010 World Cup as a backdrop, researchers from Northwestern University have developed a network approach that quantifies the contributions of individual players and teams. 

Applying the kinds of mathematical techniques that map Facebook friends and other social networks, Jordi Duch, Joshua S. Waitzman, and Luís A. Nunes Amaral created software that tracks a soccer ball's movements among team members and opponents.

The program assigns points for passing, but only the ball's flow towards the goal and each player's role in getting it there factors into the point system, which ultimately calculates a skill index for players and teams. 

"One of the issues with any kind of teamwork is assigning the right credit," said Amaral. "The wild, loud people get more credit, but with this analysis you can get a picture of how much an individual really contributes to an outcome." 

Amaral's and colleagues' fndings, called "Quantifying the Performance of Individual Players in a Team Activity," appeared in PLoS ONE (June 16, 2010). 

"This is a nice paper, and it's timely—the world is holding its breath for the [World] Cup," said Alessandro Vespignani (Indiana University, Bloomington). "But it is much deeper than that. It is a powerful way to analyze any team performance: scientific teams, companies, creative groups." 

Source: Science (June 16, 2010) 

Image of N. Korea vs. Brazil match at the 2010 World Cup via Wikipedia and Agência Brasil

Start Date: 
Thursday, June 24, 2010