Passive or aggressive? Extend or suffocate? Using body poses to understand goalkeeper technique – The Athletic

When Ryan Beal played as a semi-professional goalkeeper in Hampshire, he had to figure out a lot of things on his own. If a through ball puts an attacker one-on-one, should he charge or wait? Spread his body to block a shot or go to the ground to choke him? Outfield players had experienced coaches to teach them the intricacies of their position, but a goalkeeper coach at this level was rare.

The data wasn’t much help either. Beal got involved in football analytics while studying for a PhD and now works with two start-ups in the field, AI Abacus and Sentient Sports. But the event data he could get his hands on as a student only recorded actions on the ball and coordinates of players on the pitch, not the body movements a researcher would need to study technique.

If you wanted that level of detail, you had to find a way to collect it yourself.

A few years ago, John Harrison, another data-curious goalkeeper at Cambridge University, decided to do just that. He started leaning into video to record the goalkeeper’s approach in every one-on-one situation in the Premier League. It was a lot of work – he already had to remember an entire season after changing his record keeping – but it gave him a unique empirical perspective on issues that even veteran coaches wanted to know more about.

“I think about five years ago it was just free play,” Harrison said. “A goalkeeping coach with England contacted me because he was interested in the best thing to do. Coaches could say, ‘Use this block here, use this gap here, use this choke here’, but they all said different things.

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