Science behind Soccer Substitutions

The following a short article printed in the WSJ. I am still looking for the actual study.

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The pace and flow of soccer generally make it difficult for managers to affect the outcome of a match once it begins. Since soccer has almost no stoppages for coaches to draw on clipboards or strategize with their players, a manager’s most critical in-game decision may be choosing when to utilize his three substitutions.

That’s where Bret Myers, a professor of management and operations at the Villanova School of Business, comes in. A lifelong soccer player and fan, he sought to help coaches make their subs at exactly the right moment and discovered what he calls the “Decision Rule.”

To determine this, Dr. Myers analyzed the substitutions and ensuing results of every game played during the 2009-10 season in the top English, Spanish, Italian and German professional leagues, as well as the 2010 Major League Soccer season and the 2010 World Cup. He concluded that if their team is behind, managers should make the first substitution prior to the 58th minute, the second substitution prior to the 73rd minute and the third prior to the 79th minute. Teams that follow these guidelines improve—score at least one goal—roughly 36% of the time. Teams that don’t follow the rule improve about 18.5% of the time. He noted 1,037 instances the rule could have been applied and found that managers abide by it a little less than half the time. He also found that the timing of subs has no effect on the team ahead in the score or if the match is tied.

Dr. Myers said the rule shows that coaches underestimate the significance of fatigue late in a match, which causes them to overvalue starters and undervalue substitutes.

—Jared Diamond

This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 9th, 2011 at 20:31 and is filed under Coaching, Soccer Statistics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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