Monthly Archives: November 2013

Ways to Measure the Passing and Dribbling Distances in Soccer

Soccer is currently going through a renaissance in the ability to keep meaningful statistics due to technology. But what should be tracked? I personally don’t feel it’s very important to keep track of how things happen — as in was the ball played with the head versus the left or right foot — but most important is the distance covered and the overall percentage of success over those distances only broken down by passing and dribbling.

Soccer is not played directly, however. Often the ball must be played backwards a number of times in order to successfully advance the ball down the field as a team. Advancing the ball down the field is a must to score but as I have tried to show in other posts here, it is also extremely important to continue to possess the ball without turning it over. Circulation and movement is important even if it’s in the negative direction, so to me, those are important stats to keep track of. Moving the ball forward down the field by dribbling and passing are obviously important because you have to do that in order to score.

Now, let’s consider the various areas of the field and their importance in a successful scoring attack. The field can be measured in a straight length and width configuration, but it can also be measured in raw distances from the goal to wherever on the field the ball is. The way soccer is played, I feel both are important measurements.

Measuring the field lengthwise, if a team is able to advance the ball within 2 yards of the end line, they are going to be in a dangerous position no matter where the ball is in relation to goal. When the ball is deep on the wing, the goalkeeper and defense can no longer keep everyone in their field of vision at the same time, making it easier for the offense to find an open player and make a pass for a shot on goal. Of course, if the ball is in front of goal 2 yards off the line it’s a threatening position. However, while the ball is still wide of the goal post, it would be much harder to score but once the ball crosses in front of the goal mouth, the angles become more advantageous for the shooter making it much easier to score.

Because of this “sweet spot” for the shooter on the offensive team in the goal mouth where the angles are so advantageous nearly ever shot will go into goal, I think the raw distance measurement should be taken from an even semicircle stretching from goal post to goal post. This area would resemble the “crease” in front of goal in hockey, and surely putting the ball in this area is the objective of everyone in soccer. Balls in this area are either going to be shots on goal, crosses that have come into the goal mouth, or someone who has almost dribbled straight into the goal. In many ways, if the ball gets into this area, from the offense’s standpoint, it should be a goal. Measuring how many times a team converts balls in this area into goals would be an important statistic as well, so I feel it is important to give this area some sort of special designation statistically.

With the GPS tracking technology available to modern soccer statisticians at the highest levels of the game now, it would be possible to measure all passing and dribbling actions against two measures: raw distance towards the end line and raw distance towards the semicircle from goal post to goal post. Another important measurement would be whether or not the passing or dribbling action was successful in terms of the team keeping possession of the ball. Measuring passing and dribbling width would also add a great deal more to a player’s statistics as well. This width could even be measured positively and negatively from the center line of the field, so a player’s tendencies of passing wide versus crossing balls in would be revealed.

To me, it is not relevant how a player plays the ball — only how far they can advance the ball down the field and how successfully the team can retain possession. This allows quantification of a wide range of different plays in soccer. When defenders clear the ball out of the box, they can choose to kick the ball straight out of bounds or in an area that might be picked up by a teammate. The best defenders have enough awareness of other players on the field, they can pick out a pass to a teammate downfield while making a clearance. Deciphering the intentions of the “shot/cross” no longer matters if shots are just considered a lost pass if they are stopped and a successful pass if they score. Back passes should be considered in terms of total yardages but also by subtracting negative yardage from the positive yardage a player generates.

Taking into consideration their percentages of success from these passing and dribbling actions is extremely important in my opinion. The distances passed or dribbled should always be added to the totals even when the actions are unsuccessful, however, since the ball is still advanced down the field even if it is turned over. Again, this standardizes many types of plays from shots and crosses to defensive clearances since they are only being judged on distance and success.

Being able to quantify total offense in soccer with distances passed and distances dribbled along with more traditional statistics such as shots, goals, assists, blocked shots, and tackles gives a much more complete picture of a soccer player in my opinion. Couple these stats with “unforced errors” and some degree of mental focus and toughness in a very fluid sport can be established.

How Practicing the Simple Things Improves Your Soccer Team

What does soccer practice do for your team? A lot, if you practice doing the simple things correctly. In soccer, the basics consist of passing the ball, trapping the ball, and dribbling the ball. Shooting the ball is important as well, but a more advanced topic. Goalkeeping is also important, but goalkeepers are soccer players first, so they should be able to play with their feet just like a field player.

At all levels of skill, it is important to pass, trap, and dribble consistently well and under control without losing the ball. Let’s look at several scenarios describing players of different skill levels keeping in mind the general premises I have set up already in regards to soccer tactics and soccer stats — namely that effective offensive possession in soccer should be seen as a series of soccer actions like passes and dribbling attempts that each have a general percentage chance of success associated with them. We commonly refer to “50/50″ balls but there’s no reason we can’t speak of high percentage plays such as a simple pass or simple dribble in the same terms, more like “80/20″ or “90/10″ plays.

The interesting thing about a series of percentages like this is how quickly your overall chances of success deteriorate even while each individual action has a very high percentage chance of success.

Players of various skill levels are going to be able to perform soccer actions like passing, trapping, and dribbling at different rates of success, too. Beginning soccer players are not going to be able to do even the simplest basic soccer actions with any degree of repetition while professional soccer players will rarely make any mistakes over dozens of attempts. You can quantify these different skill levels with percentages of success as well, and this is where you see your soccer practice pay off for your team.

A beginning soccer player might not be able to keep control of the ball while doing simple soccer actions more than 10-20% of the time. We might imagine something along the lines of dribbling 10 yards, turning around, and dribbling another 10 yards back to the starting point. As simple as this task is, most beginners are going to be challenged not to lose control of the ball at some point. Even at a walking pace, many beginners are not going to be able to do this without getting yards away from the line they’re trying to dribble along. Simple passing and trapping are much the same story.

So how are teams to build up possession during a game in order to get a shot on goal and hopefully score when their players individually have a hard time controlling the ball, making passes, and dribbling? The short answer is, they’re not! If your players can’t achieve 50% rates of success while making simple soccer plays, your team is better off kicking the ball as deep as possible in the opponent’s field and hoping to be in the right place for a shot on goal when the inevitable turnover happens.

  • Beginning players who can successfully complete simple soccer skills 20% of the time only have a 4% chance of doing two skills correctly back-to-back.
  • Intermediate players who can do simple skills correctly and under control 50% of the time have only a 12.5% chance of doing three skills correctly back-to-back-to-back.
  • Advanced players who can do simple skills 80% of the time have a 64% chance of doing two skills successfully in succession and 51.2% chance of doing three skills successfully in a row. However, even advanced players only have a 32.7% chance of performing five skills in succession.

From these numbers, you can see the importance of practicing! When players can’t even do a short series of actions with any degree of certainty then there is no hope for team tactics. Team tactics shouldn’t even come into play for beginning players. Intermediate players might be aware of team tactics but overall their skill level is just not high enough to be able to do even the simplest series of soccer actions consistently. Only advanced players can keep control of the ball long enough doing even the simplest series of soccer actions so that tactics matter!

Now let’s look at several different levels of advanced players and how their chances of success increase as their skills get better.

  • Players able to complete 85% of basic skills correctly have a 44.3% chance of completing five skills in a row without losing possession. That is an improvement of more than 10% for a 5% improvement in individual skill over the 80% player.
  • Players able to complete 90% of basic skills correctly can complete a series of six skills with still a better than 50% chance of success.
  • Players able to complete 95% of basic skills correctly have better than 75% chance of completing five skills in succession and can consistently complete 13 skills in succession while still having a better than 50% chance of success. That is more than twice as many skills that can consistently be performed with a better than 50% chance of success over the 90% player.
  • Being able to put together a string of 10-20 passes during a game requires a great deal of skill from all players on the field.

If these numbers don’t show how important it is to do the small things correctly in soccer each and every time, what will convince you? As a beginning soccer player, gathering the basic skills of the game is extremely important for your progression in the game, and even as an advanced player, practicing basic skills pays enormous rewards. If you want to be a professional soccer player or on a winning competitive team at any level, you must be able to do the small things correctly each and every time because only by being that good is your team able to work together and execute tactics on the soccer field with any consistency.

Statistics Showing How Much a Player Adds to the Team Offensively

In previous posts, I have discussed how important it is to consistently create with every touch of the soccer ball high percentage plays for your team. To move the ball down the field to create scoring chances, the team using low percentage passes and dribbling attempts does so at their peril, because eventually the odds will catch up with you, your turnover rate will be too high, and your team will give up scoring chances from those turnovers that can lose games.

From that view, I think some of the most important new statistics that can be kept in soccer with the use of GPS tracking technology are the distances players move the ball by dribbling and passing, their rate of turnovers dribbling and passing, and also their team’s continued rate of possession and scoring chances created and converted five touches, ten touches, and fifteen touches after a player’s possession ends. By doing this, we will see which players create good chances for their team and which players put their teams in bad situations. Midfielders and defenders who are able to spot advantageous situations develop on the field and then put their team in the best positions to capitalize on those chances will be recognized in ways never before possible. Forwards will have their talent and creativity in ball control seen in a new way that can be quantified beyond the simple shots on goal and goals scored numbers.

Skilled and talented players on a soccer team must work for the team in order for the team to be successful. On offense, this means keeping possession of the ball and eventually shots on goal and goals scored. However, very little of a team’s offense is the actual act of taking a shot — far more time is spent in the buildup and possession to create a scoring chance for the team. Looking at the team’s qualities of possession after a player’s touches on the ball will show how much that player adds to the team’s offense across the entire field and the entire time the game is played.