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Disney Researchers ­se Automated Analysis to Find Weakness in Soccer Coaching Strategy

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A soccer coach instructing his team.

New research suggests soccer coaches wrongly assume they can only play to a draw on the road.

Credit: Fisher Soccer Club

Disney researchers are applying artificial intelligence to the analysis of professional soccer and, in one automated technique, have discovered a strategic error often made by coaches of visiting teams.

Conventional wisdom states that teams should win at home and play to a draw on the road, a philosophy that has encouraged coaches to play less aggressively when they are the visiting team, according to Disney researcher Patrick Lucey. However, computer analysis suggests it is this defensive-oriented strategy that reduces the likelihood of road wins.

The researchers analyzed 380 games from a 20-team professional soccer league's 2010-2011 season and found that performance measures such as shooting and passing were similar for home and away teams. At home, the team had the ball in the opponent's defensive third more often, and thus had more shots on goal, than when on the road and played a more defensive, counterattacking style.

"Visiting coaches are setting their teams up for failure from the get go," Lucey says. The researchers used ball-action data, or time-coded information about everything that is happening to the ball. The researchers note their techniques also can be used for other team sports that feature continuous play, such as basketball, hockey, and football.

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