Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The Mathematics Found in Soccer

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By Scott Martin

I’ve always been a soccer rat. I played high school then college in the fall, trained and played indoor during the Wisconsin winter months, and then played first division during the spring and summer. 

On the first day of training as a college freshman, my coach, Jerry Stark, knew I was a forward but saw something in me that changed my entire view of the game. “I want you to take everything you know about attacking, turn it around 180 degrees and take over the defense.” Jerry said to me. Nowadays, we use the acronym WTF for what went through my head. But Jerry knew soccer so I did what he told me. 

I don’t know to what degree he expected me to take my new task to heart, but I jumped in and became a true student of the game. Near daily, I approached Jerry with what I had found through reading and on videotape. I learned that speed is needed at the outside back position along with what I coined “turn speed” which is how quickly we needed to turn from facing the opponent’s goal to our goal to stay goal side and inside the opposing attacking player, thus, limiting his opportunities. 

This started me thinking about the mathematics found in soccer. What I saw as a defender that I didn’t see as an attacker was amazing. Geometric designs such as triangles, diamonds, and squares are found all around the field of play — in quality teams. So we adopted this.  Angles are used to gain an advantage. This too was what we trained to take away from our opponents and use in our attack.

This knowledge led me to the below diagram. We look to force play by our opponent wide — to the flanks. We know that players, especially males, tend to attack open space so we play harder inside than outside. We also know that the closer an attacking player that is possessing the ball gets to the end line the more likely she/he is going to serve the ball into the 6-yard box. Therefore, we train our goalkeepers and field players to get into a set position (more in a later post) and prepare for what we all know is coming: A cross.

Percentages play a huge factor in higher-level attacking. When defending, we work to position ourselves to decrease the percentage of scoring. I concluded this after watching matches from the pro and college levels and, not so surprising, found the same to hold true at the youth level as well. In simple, mathematical terms, for every goal that is scored within the “Scoring Zone” (the area within the discs below) it takes 15 shots to score a goal from outside the SZ. Seriously! 15 to 1. Don’t we all wish to have odds like that in our favor in Las Vegas? Obviously, in training my teams, we use this same ratio when training our attack. Players at most ages can understand this. Once players buy into the math, their learning curve shortens, and the quality of match play increases.

Let’s simplify the game.


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