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Data analysis is really helping the Dutch national women’s football team

The European Football Championship for Women, in the Netherlands this summer, is the background for a large and innovative data research project. The Dutch football union is working together with Leiden University and Sportinnovator. The research is expected to uncover links that have thus far remained hidden.

Optimise the game

To be able to perform optimally in top sport calls for optimal conditions. In the past, good shoes and a decent ball were enough, but today help comes from super computers. Scientists at Leiden University’s Sport Data Center know how to use the data to optimise the game. A large data study is expected to give new insights.

Extreme computing power

‘What we do, is look at football from a mathematical point a view,’ says Professor Joost Kok, ‘as if the players are moving parts.’ Kok’s computers have an extreme computing power. ‘We can see what the players are doing with respect to each other, how they cooperate and what patterns can be observed - and whether certain actions lead to the result you want. That can help in making a plan for field tactics. In the long run, it can also improve scouting, training and coaching.’

Decisive information

Peter Blangé is the performance manager of the KNVB. As a former leading sportsman, he recognizes the added value of data analysis. ‘It can provide you with decisive information and new insights. It is one thing to collect the data, but something else to put it to the best use. Then, you’ll improve both individual players and whole teams.’

Step further

At the next EC, all duals of the Dutch team will be scrutinized. National coach Sarina Wiegman: ‘As staff, we are always looking for ways to improve our possibilities. This approach is going to deliver data that will take us a step further than before. It's going to be very interesting and we are looking forward to the results. Apart from the games of the OrangeLions, other matches will be monitored meticulously as well.

Golden Standard

The KNVB and Leiden University are cooperating under the flag of Sportinnovator. This is a programme that aims to stimulate cooperation between sports, businesses, the authorities and sciences. It was initiated by the government and its aim is to enlarge the output of knowledge and innovation in sports. NOC*NSF’s Maurits Hendriks is a member of the Topteam Sports of Sportinnovator. ‘In the end, it is all about the question of what it requires of a sports professional to perform at the highest level. We call that the Golden Standard. If we can define this for women’s soccer, we will be another step forward.’

The results and conclusions of the investigation will be published after the European Championship.

Example of data analysis: the Voronoi diagram. (Benjamin van der Burgh and Roy de Winter)

Top image: KNVB/Media

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