Soccer science


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When I went out for my run this morning, Sydney seemed like a ghost town: empty sidewalks, tumbleweed blowing down the streets, etc. The only signs of life were in the pubs, which had been open since 4 a.m. for the Socceroos’ Monday-morning World Cup debut. Inside, people were huddled quietly over their empty schooners, absorbing their 4-0 loss to Germany.

In that spirit, a couple of good recent articles on the science of soccer:

– Ross Tucker of The Science of Sport has started a series on the physiology of soccer. The first installment offers a good profile of what it takes to play a full game: running 10 to 15 km, including between 80 and 110 sprints, and so on. I had a chance to chat with Ross for a couple of hours last week for an upcoming article — a very interesting guy with lots of insight, as you can gather from the blog.

– A very thorough round-up of recent research on the psychology of the penalty kick, by Andrew Keh of the New York Times. As I write this, Ghana has just taken the first penalty kick of the tournament, scoring to defeat Serbia — but we’ll be seeing a lot more of these when we reach the elimination rounds. One of the most interesting observations:

Kick takers in a shootout score at a rate of 92 percent when the score is tied and a goal ensures their side an immediate win. But when they need to score to tie the shootout, with a miss meaning defeat, the success rate drops to 60 percent.

“This to me is the key finding of all our studies,” said Geir Jordet, a professor at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences in Oslo who has analyzed shootouts with fervor. Jordet also found that shooting percentages tend to drop with each successive kick — 86.6 percent for the first shooter, 81.7 for the second, 79.3 for the third and so on.

“It demonstrates so clearly the power of psychology,” he said