Highlands soccer implementing unique analytical approach

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Monday, October 7, 2019 | 8:17 PM


Professional sports teams often use anything they can to gain a competitive advantage, and in recent years, different forms of analytics have become a norm across the country.

But those in-depth analytics typically don’t trickle down to the high school level.

So when first-year coach Jason Norris, an industrial engineer by trade, took over the Highlands boys soccer program, he started to implement an analytic approach that gives him and his players the ability to identify where they can improve in a unique way.

“I tend to manage by data and by analytics. I look for trends. I look for market trends and things like that,” Norris said. “So coming into this year I felt like we had to change our style of play. High school soccer is a lot of dump and chase, and I wanted to change it so we would play through the midfield.

“I felt the best way to do that would be to look at the data.”

Norris’ analytic approach helps him understand how much a player is touching the ball, how many tackles a player is winning and the number of shots a player is creating, along with several other things.

The data paints a picture of where his team can improve and how he can plug in players at different positions since the numbers represent their style of play.

Earlier this season, after he had the opportunity to collect a pile of data, Norris could finally put his data to work. After a 3-1 loss to North Hills, he sat down and tried to find where his team could improve.

“I felt that we were getting beat on the left side, and I felt that we were allowing too many shots on goal,” Norris said. “So I started looking at who was winning tackles, who was completing passes and who was touching the ball. From that, I made some changes.”

From his dive into the numbers, Norris decided to change his left wing and center back around.

Before the change, the team allowed an average of 17 shots per game. Since the change, they’ve allowed 10 shots on goal.

After a few other analytic-driven decisions, such as plugging in a player on the right wing who has completed a higher percentage of his passes, the Golden Rams (5-5-3) have started to improve.

Since their loss to North Hills, they have only lost one game, a 3-0 defeat against No. 2 Mars. They also defeated Knoch and Indiana and tied Hampton. Although the sample size is small, the results are telling.

The first time they played Indiana, they lost 6-0. In their second meeting, the Golden Rams won 4-1.

“Since we’ve made those changes, our season has turned around,” Norris said. “So they are definitely having an impact.”

On top of helping Norris as a coach, the players have benefited from the immense amount of data at their fingertips. Midfielder Gabe Norris, Jason’s son, said the data helps him work on his game.

“It’s a nice way to see how much you are really affecting a game,” Gabe said. “I feel like it’s very beneficial in high school because our players aren’t really used to having that much attention to detail, and it shows you what you need to do better.”

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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