JOURNAL ARTICLE

Dynamics of tactical behaviour in association football when manipulating players' space of interaction

Angel Ric, Carlota Torrents, Bruno Gonçalves, Lorena Torres-Ronda, Jaime Sampaio, Robert Hristovski
PloS One 2017, 12 (7): e0180773
28708868
The analysis of positional data in association football allows the spatial distribution of players during matches to be described in order to improve the understanding of tactical-related constraints on the behavioural dynamics of players. The aim of this study was to identify how players' spatial restrictions affected the exploratory tactical behaviour and constrained the perceptual-motor workspace of players in possession of the ball, as well as inter-player passing interactions. Nineteen professional outfield male players were divided into two teams of 10 and 9 players, respectively. The game was played under three spatial constraints: a) players were not allowed to move out of their allocated zones, except for the player in possession of the ball; b) players were allowed to move to an adjacent zone, and; c) non-specific spatial constraints. Positional data was captured using a 5 Hz interpolated GPS tracking system and used to define the configuration states of players for each second in time. The configuration state comprised 37 categories derived from tactical actions, distance from the nearest opponent, distance from the target and movement speed. Notational analysis of players in possession of the ball allowed the mean time of ball possession and the probabilities of passing the ball between players to be calculated. The results revealed that the players' long-term exploratory behaviour decreased and their short-term exploration increased when restricting their space of interaction. Relaxing players' positional constraints seemed to increase the speed of ball flow dynamics. Allowing players to move to an adjacent sub-area increased the probabilities of interaction with the full-back during play build-up. The instability of the coordinative state defined by being free from opponents when players had the ball possession was an invariant feature under all three task constraints. By allowing players to move to adjacent sub-areas, the coordinative state became highly unstable when the distance from the target decreased. Ball location relative to the scoring zone and interpersonal distance constitute key environmental information that constrains the players' coordinative behaviour. Based on our results, dynamic overlap is presented as a good option to capture tactical performance. Moreover, the selected collective (i.e. relational) variables would allow coaches to identify the effects of training drills on teams and players' behaviour. More research is needed considering these type variables to understand how the manipulation of constraints induce a more stable or flexible dynamical structure of tactical behaviour.

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