Could artificial intelligence be the future of soccer coaching?

An artificial intelligence (AI) system named ‘TacticAI’ can predict the outcome of corner kicks and provide realistic and accurate tactical suggestions in soccer matches, according to international researchers, who found that experts from Liverpool FC were found to favour strategies proposed by TacticAI over existing tactics 90% of the time. In practice, corner kick routines are determined ahead of each match, so a system to help analyse and improve the chances of scoring would help support the coaching team. The researchers believe TacticAI could lay the groundwork for the next generation of AI assistants to help coaches determine the best player setups and develop counter-tactics to maximise the chances of winning.

Funder: No specific funding information provided.TacticAI was developed during the course of the Authors’
employment at Google DeepMind and Liverpool Football Club,

Media release

From: Springer Nature

Artificial Intelligence: Using AI to improve football tactics *IMAGE* 

An artificial intelligence (AI) system named ‘TacticAI’ that can predict the outcome of corner kicks and provide realistic and accurate tactical suggestions in football matches is presented in Nature Communications. In a user survey, experts from Liverpool FC were found to favor strategies proposed by TacticAI over existing tactics 90% of the time. The research could lay the groundwork for the next generation of AI assistants to help coaches determine optimal player setups and develop counter-tactics to maximize the chances of winning.

In football, corner kicks are important as they offer an immediate opportunity to score a goal and offer coaches the most direct opportunities for interventions and improvements. In practice, corner kick routines are determined ahead of each match, and so a system to help analyse and improve the chances of scoring would be beneficial to help support human experts.

Zhe Wang, Petar Veličković, Karl Tuyls and colleagues designed TacticAI, an AI-powered assistant coach to analyse corner kicks with high-quality tracking data. Geometric Deep Learning was used to identify key strategic patterns to produce predictive and generative outcomes. With these, TacticAI was able to accurately predict the first receiver of the ball after a corner kick is taken and the direct result of the kick. The system could also evaluate the possible outcomes with alternative player setups and generate tactical variations that improve match outcomes. The authors trained and tested TacticAI using a dataset of 7,176 corner kicks from past Premier League seasons supplied by Liverpool FC. They demonstrated the benefit of TacticAI and found that the tactical setups it generated were realistic and indistinguishable from real-world scenarios as evaluated by a group of five football experts: three data scientists, one video analyst, and one coaching assistant from Liverpool FC. TacticAI’s strategies were also favored over existing tactics 90% of the time in a user survey.

The authors suggest that the method could be generalised to other set pieces, such as throw-ins, and to other team sports with suspended play situations.

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