Choke or Shine? Quantifying Soccer Players' Abilities to Perform Under Mental Pressure

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Lotte Bransen
Pieter Robberechts
Jan Van Haaren
Jesse Davis


Abstract:While most existing soccer performance metrics focus on players’ technical and physical performances, they typically ignore the mental pressure under which these performances were delivered. Yet, mental pressure is a recurrent concept in the analysis of players’ or teams’ performances. Hence, this paper takes a first step towards objectively understanding how high-mental pressure situations affect the performances and behavior of soccer players.

We introduce an approach that compares soccer players’ performances across different levels of mental pressure. For each game situation, our approach uses a machine learned model to estimate how much mental pressure the player possessing the ball experiences using a combination of match context features and the current game state. Similarly, our approach uses machine learned models to evaluate three aspects of each action performed by the player: the choice of action, the execution of the chosen action, and the action’s expected contribution to the scoreline.

We demonstrate the ability of our approach to provide actionable insights for soccer clubs in four relevant use cases: player acquisition, training, tactical decisions, and lineups and substitutions. For example, we identify Houssem Aouar and Xherdan Shaqiri as suitable replacements for Leicester City’s former star Riyad Mahrez. We also identify a large number of needless fouls under pressure as a fixable weakness of Orlando City’s striker Dom Dwyer. Since soccer players are often confronted with high-pressure situations, our metric provides insights in the link between pressure and performance that can provide soccer clubs a competitive advantage.