Soccer Teams Using IBM Watson AI to Help Gain an Edge

Soccer (football for those outside the US) is big business. A successful season can mean millions of dollars while a losing one might cost some jobs. From finding the best players to coming up with the best game plan, teams try to win any way they can. Well, now a few soccer teams are turning to artificial intelligence to help them gain an edge on their opponents.

Semi-Pro Leatherhead Using Watson to Game Plan

Leatherhead of the Isthmian League Premier Division is working with IBM’s Watson to help them get an edge up on their competition. The AI helps the team with pre- and post-match analysis along with scouting their upcoming opponents.

First, Watson scans match results and social feeds. The AI then analyzes all the relevant data to create a report on opposing team’s tactics and players. Via an easy to use dashboard, players and coaches can access in-depth reports and statistics. They can see insight on things like passing success, tackles, and scoring attempts.

“We found our players were losing the ball in bad areas and we wanted to know how often this led to the opposition having a shot. We found it could be as much as 20 percent. We were able to sit down with the players and show how bad choices led to bad results,” said Leatherhead assistant manager Martin McCarthy.

Along with the dashboard, players and staff can simply ask Watson questions and they will receive detailed responses. For examples, if the coaches want to see all scoring plays from a particular opponent, Watson will provide all the video clips along with key data.

“I used it to look at previous performances and upcoming fixtures, and we used the tool to help build relationships with the players. AI removes the emotion from decision making – there’s no favoritism; it just gives you facts to help you make better decisions,” said McCarthy.

IBM Watson AI Soccer Leatherhead Bundesliga football - YellRobot

Watson Helping German Bundesliga Team Acquire New Players

IBM’s Watson isn’t just scouting opponents, it’s also helping teams pick players. A German Bundesliga team is using the AI to help them learn about potential players from around the world. Bundesliga is the top league in Germany.

This soccer team has accumulated about 10,000 scouting reports over the years.  These come from expert talent scouts covering everything from strengths, weaknesses, injury history, personalities and work ethic.

The problem is the teams couldn’t really access all that info in an easy way. Teams might have to go through thousands of reports just to find one player that will fit their squad. It’s almost impossible for scouts to properly analyze that many reports.

JAAI Scout Can Analyze Scouting Reports and Social Media

Meet JAAI Scout from IBM’s Just Add AI. It scans the scouting reports, extracting and analyzing all the relevant information. Along with stats and physical attributes, JAAI will look at interviews and social media profiles to create player personality traits. It will then calculate a fair market value and predict future potential. Once all of that data is processed, suitable players are then recommended to the team. JAAI Scout takes all of this information and puts it into a dashboard for team officials to access.

Using AI saves human scouts a ton of time and can often spot players that they may miss. The AI isn’t replacing the scouts but merely taking all the valuable information they have acquired and organizing it in a more accessible way. According to IBM, some of the players that were acquired thanks to the AI have been performing quite well.

“We actually trained Watson to understand scouting reports and extract the most relevant details, making them searchable and available for visualization. The reports are still the most important element—JAAI SCOUT just makes them more accessible— so scouts don’t feel they are being replaced. In fact, AI is making their expertise even more influential in the team’s decisions,” IBM said in a blog post.


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