The unspoken communication between players in a soccer match can teach us a lot about other competitive encounters, including military conflicts. That’s according to new research coming out of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
The report, published in the professional journal Entropy, has a technical title – “The Adaptive Behavior of a Soccer Team: An Entropy-Based Analysis” – but the take-away is simpler: Successful soccer teams maintain a delicate balance between organization and disorganization in the field.
Although teams need to have organized patterns of behavior to collaborate on the field, their actions need to be just disordered enough to surprise or mislead their opponents.
The researchers looked at ball-passing patterns to determine the degree of entropy, or lack of predictability, by analyzing data from the 2015-16 English Premier League soccer season.
A team’s “entropy score … significantly contributes to the prediction of the team’s position at the end of the season,” said Prof. Yair Neuman, the lead researcher.
The study has serious implications for how human societies function – in peace and in war.
“Inside a group – whether it is a soccer team, a military unit or group of senior diplomats – it is important to coordinate messages and actions so individual members of the group can anticipate actions and reactions of their colleagues in a given situation,” Neuman said. “At the same time, the group has to ensure that its actions do not become so formulaic that opponents can easily predict their movements and actions.”
Neuman adds that the principles of entropy derived from soccer can be seen “clearly from the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said openly that he would not have approved the abduction of three Israeli soldiers along the Israel-Lebanon border if he had anticipated an Israeli retaliatory invasion.”
The report’s authors include Neuman of the Department of Cognitive and Brain Sciences at BGU, Dan Vilenchik of the BGU Department of Systems Engineering, Navot Israeli and Yochai Cohen.