Women’s football is growing in popularity, and with it, new research is emerging. Football academic and technical director Mark Scanlan has completed a study to present statistical findings in an area of women’s football that hasn’t been explored.

To date, there's very little research published on effective attack strategies and the creation of goal scoring opportunities (GSO) in women’s football. 

In this situation, a GSO is defined as a shot on target that's either saved by the goalkeeper, cleared off the line by a defender, or goes in as a goal. 

As part of his academic journal produced at Edith Cowan University, academic and technical director Mark Scanlan used Hudl Sportscode to study video from all 52 matches in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. He assessed the factors related to the creation of GSOs that led to success in the tournament.

390 GSOs were sampled, from which 95 goals were scored. The key metrics measured included: 

  • Zone of possession gain after the pitch was divided into nine zones
  • Type of possession gain (e.g., tackle, high press, interception)
  • Time in possession and type of GSO (e.g., cross, through ball, shot on target) 
  • Other methods (e.g., Ron Smith’s methodology)
Scanlan studied 390 attacking phases of play that lead to the creation of a GSO at the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada, and recorded the origin of possession across the nine zones.

Ron Smith, former technical analyst for the Socceroos, compiled a strategic analysis of goals scored in open play from four consecutive men’s World Cup tournaments (2002–2014). The research found that regaining possession in the final third lead to success in terms of creating GSOs and scoring. 

Similarly to Scanlan’s more recent study on the women’s game, Smith’s study analysed the build-up leading to goals and categorised them into three types: 

  1. From passing behind the opposing defence or to a player level with the last defender in a position to shoot or pass to a teammate
  2. From in front of the opposing defence, or from dribbling past the last line of defence
  3. From crosses

Smith divided the field of play into seven zones to determine where possession was gained in the build-up to the goal. The results of this analysis showed that the most successful strategy for scoring goals at the four World Cup tournaments between 2002 and 2014 was the first category, which was to pass the ball behind opponents or to a player level with the last defender. The analysis showed that the most successful area to regain possession of the ball was in the attacking teams’ own half, with the middle third of the pitch consistently providing the highest number of possession regains than the front (final) and back third. 

Scanlan’s study revealed that the middle third of the pitch was the most effective area for gaining possession and creating GSOs, and that the time taken to create a GSO was just under twelve seconds. Coaches or technical analysts in the women’s game could use this information to plan how to win the ball back in the areas statistically proven to lead increased GSOs.

The middle centre zone of the pitch is the most effective.

With three degrees in sports science and football under his belt, Scanlan has the academic knowledge to back up his professional role as Technical Director of Football for ECU Joondalup SC.

Scanlan also has experience in the performance analysis departments of A-League clubs Perth Glory and Melbourne Victory, as well as the Socceroos for their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign. That was where he was exposed to the video analysis software he used in his study.

“I did all my analysis in Sportscode, I created a code window and it spat out the information I needed, especially through the matrix,” said Scanlan. “I had some pretty cool spreadsheets that I use as well, which were designed off the back of my experience. Sportscode was really important in the study.”

One of the key aims of Scanlan’s study is to have a wider influence on players and coaches in the women’s game. He hopes the data and research will help evolve the game in the same way it has for the men’s game. 

Scanlan used Hudl Sportscode to execute the analysis for his research on GSOs.

“I’m hoping the study opens people’s eyes to the women’s game and gets them thinking about the similarities and differences between the top men and women,” said Scanlan. “The girls playing at the very top of their game are excellent technically and tactically, there really are some fantastic female players, and the women’s game is continuing to grow in terms of popularity." 

Scanlan predicted that the WWC would be a watershed moment for the women’s game, and with the popularity of the tournament that certainly seems to be the case.

When asked what advice he would give to other analysts and coaches hoping to employ a similar methodology to improve their team’s performance, Scanlan explains his research isn’t "one size fits all" knowledge.

“I think it comes down to what your coaching philosophy is, your team model, how do you want to play,” said Scanlan. “Then you build from there. My methodology wasn’t created overnight, it was formed after identifying gaps in the literature and speaking with a lot of professional coaches and analysts.”

Outside of completing his studies, Scanlan continues his work with ECU Joondalup, where video analysis is impacting the club through every age group. 

“We now have Hudl in place for our junior academy all the way through from under-13s,” explains Scanlan. “Our juniors are loving it, because they can create their own highlights for the first time. The parents love it to bits, and from a technical director's view, it’s great to see they are learning by watching their clips back.”

Scanlan coaching for ECU Joondalup in Western Australia.

Only six months after its introduction, the impact of video on the club’s junior section is already being felt. Hudl Assist adds even more value to coaches who want matches analysed accurately on a quick turnaround.

“We’ve gone from last year where some of our junior games weren’t even filmed, to now not only having Hudl, they also have Hudl Assist,” said Scanlan. “Assist lets me look back, and the goal chances have already been coded for me so I don’t have to scrub through a whole game. I can go directly to each coded opportunity, drag it back to how we want possession of the ball, categorise it, then bang, done. 

"Assist has been massive as I’m not having to do full analysis now, and I trust that the Assist guys have done it properly, the quality of coding has been really good.”

For FC Joondalup's next steps, Coach Scanlan aims to increase the use of video analysis and relate it back to more ongoing academia with a local focus.

“We’ve come a long way in six months and it’s now really up to me to drive this and make sure we are taking full advantage of the product to the best of our ability,” said Scanlan. 

“It’s been a bit of a steep learning curve for some of our juniors, but the buy-in has been great so far. As for future studies, [like] the methodology and research I did around the 2014 World Cup, I would like to start doing for our academy games here. That could be another publication or two, the comparison of junior football, to elite international football, men and women’s. That’s the end goal of this—I want to do a full junior academy analysis."

To learn more about how Hudl powers the modern game, check out Hudl, The Newsletter, or take a look at our pro­fes­sion­al case stud­ies from A-League champions Sydney FC and the AFL's Richmond Tigers.