Journal of Human Sport and Exercise

Analysing soccer using perturbation attempts

Nic James, Gethin D. Rees, Elliot Griffin, Phil Barter, Joe Taylor, Luke Heath, Goran Vučković



Dynamical systems theory describes how behaviours can deviate through a series of states (stable or unstable) before returning to an original stable state. It has been suggested that squash performance exhibits properties akin to a dynamical system and demonstrated that squash experts were able to reliably discriminate weak or strong shots that gave one player a distinct advantage over their opponent. They argued that experts were essentially identifying “perturbations” which they defined as incidents that change a system state from a stable to an unstable situation or vice versa. Similarly, in this paper we examine ball possession in soccer and consider those where neither team has a distinct advantage as being a stable situation and perturbation attempts as those where an effort is made to gain a distinct advantage. This study assessed the relative frequency and success rate of perturbation attempts in relation to the match status (match score at the time of the incident). A hand notation system was designed to record the variables of interest (players involved, pitch locations, behaviours performed and behaviour outcomes). Eight domestic league matches from the 2007/2008 season involving a Coca-Cola League One team were analysed. Results indicated that the home team made significantly less perturbation attempts (11.78% of total possessions) compared to the away teams (17.54%) but that generally perturbation attempts were more likely to be unsuccessful than successful (Z = 2.37, p < 0.05). Future studies need to assess if the frequency of perturbation attempts and perturbation success rates are related to playing standard.


Dynamical systems; Perturbation attempts; Soccer


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