Sports research

Nobody in the Netherlands could have missed the UEFA Women's Euro 2017 this summer because 'We, the Dutch' won. But how did the Netherlands women's national football team pull that off? To answer this question, Joost Kok, Professor of Fundamental Computer Science at Leiden University, and his team collected two types of data in collaboration with the Royal Netherlands Football Association and Sportinnovator, a programme that has the aim of increasing the return on knowledge and innovation in sport.

text: Malou van Hintum

Champions Women's soccer (credits: HH/ PM Bas)

The researchers let students register the actions of each individual player for all 31 matches: who made a pass to whom, who threw in, who tackled, who pushed forwards, and who scored? In addition, for all games involving the Dutch team – and for a large number of the other matches –  three cameras aimed at the field recorded who was where at which moment with respect to the ball. Accordingly, all movements during a match could be recorded and schematically translated into dynamic patterns of moving points.

More goals!

The results from Kok's research have not yet fully borne fruit, but the aim of the research is clear: determining in what way the playing pattern the Dutch team differed from the other teams and how it led to the team becoming champions. That insight must help sports coaches to further refine and improve their strategy, so that at least as many but preferably even more goals can be scored in the future.

Thanks to the recent collaboration between sports scientists and data scientists, such as Joost Kok and Koen Lemmink, athletes will soon be able to train and take part in matches with a scientific backdrop. The expected advantage: better performances for top athletes as well as amateurs.

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