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Statistical analysis tools make impact for men’s soccer

October 18, 2019

Ann Basu
WAITING TO POUNCE: Charlie Ward ’22 waits for the moment to strike when sizing up a tackle against a Hamilton opponent. The men’s soccer team has been using a new suite of data and film analysis tools to target key areas of improvement.

The technological era of sports is fully upon us. For years, pro sports teams have had access to tools providing them with advanced metrics and film breakdowns. However, these computational and quantitative tools are no longer exclusively used by professional teams. Right here at Bowdoin, the men’s soccer team (6-2-4, NESCAC 1-2-4) has been applying these analytical tools to its own game footage to find a competitive edge.

For the first time in program history, footage from men’s soccer games has been uploaded to the service InStat. Shortly thereafter, Head Coach Scott Wiercinski receives a statistical breakdown of the entire game, from heat maps tracking players’ locations across the field to data showing how long any given player had the ball at their feet and a plethora of other statistics.

When asked whether statistical analysis could change the way soccer is played, Wiercinski responded, “it already has.”

InStat has also been helpful for individual players, allowing them to learn more about their habits and skills. Nate Kelsey ’22, a fullback on the team, learned through InStat that his percentage of completed passes was 80 percent with his right foot but 55 percent with his left, leading him to make left-footed passing accuracy a focus during practice.

Although the team actively uses InStat, Wiercinski admitted that the mechanics of the program were a mystery to him.

“I don’t actually know exactly how they do it,” said Wiercinski. “I don’t know if it’s guys that watch the game and break it down from a visual standpoint, or whether there’s some sort of algorithm that converts all of the action into simple actions, but it’s just a mountain of data that allows us to look at the game in a different way.”

Although he praised how the data brought light to little issues and highlighted the team’s in-game trends, Wiercinski doesn’t feel that InStat made him realize any vital changes that needed to be made.

“As a coach, you sort of rely on your eyes and your gut, and you say ‘this is what I think,’” he said. “Having the specific statistics to back up your gut feelings of trends that continue to happen helps confirm a lot of my own analysis of the game.”

Kelsey agreed with his coach, in the sense that, although InStat is a reliable resource, it doesn’t immediately affect his in-game mentality.

“I’m never in a game and think, ‘oh, my InStat says I make this pass too much, so I’m going to look for this one instead,’” Kelsey said. “In the moment I just play, but it does help me identify aspects of my game that I want to improve upon.”

Going forward, programs like InStat will become more and more common within the soccer community. Wiercinski knows that Bates and Colby also now use InStat, and he believes it will only spread to more programs throughout the country. However, whether the program can translate individual improvements into wins is still to be seen.


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