Data science in american football

Data Science Revolutionizing American Football: A Comparative Analysis with the Soccer Industry


Sylvain Marty

7/18/20233 min read

man holding brown football ball
man holding brown football ball

The integration of data science into professional sports has revolutionized the way teams analyze and optimize player performance. American football and soccer, two globally beloved sports, have embraced data-driven methodologies to gain a competitive edge. In this article, we will explore how data science usage has modernized the professional American football industry, contrasting it with the advancements seen in the soccer industry, particularly the notable case of the German soccer team's use of trackers to monitor player movement and collect valuable athlete data.

The Rise of Data Science in American Football:

Over the past decade, American football has experienced a paradigm shift in the way teams approach player development, game strategy, and injury prevention. The advent of advanced tracking technologies, wearable sensors, and sophisticated analytics tools has provided teams with a wealth of valuable data to enhance decision-making and optimize performance.

Player Performance Analysis: The Seattle Seahawks, known for their innovative approach, have implemented data science techniques to analyze player performance. In 2016, they partnered with Zebra Technologies to install RFID sensors in players' shoulder pads. These sensors capture player movements and collect real-time data, enabling the coaching staff to analyze player performance metrics like speed, acceleration, and distance covered. This data helps coaches make informed decisions regarding player selection, positioning, and training regimens.

Game Strategy and Tactics: The New England Patriots, a team renowned for their strategic prowess, have embraced data science to optimize their game plans. In 2019, the Patriots collaborated with a sports analytics company called Zelus Analytics. By leveraging machine learning algorithms and advanced statistical models, they analyzed vast amounts of historical game data to gain insights into opponent tendencies, play calling patterns, and situational probabilities. This information enabled the Patriots to make data-driven decisions and adjust their strategies accordingly.

Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation: The Philadelphia Eagles have utilized data science techniques to enhance injury prevention and rehabilitation. In 2017, they partnered with Catapult Sports, a company specializing in athlete tracking technology. Catapult's wearable GPS devices and accelerometers provide the Eagles' medical staff with valuable data on player workload, movement patterns, and impact forces. By monitoring this data, the Eagles can identify potential injury risks and tailor training programs to reduce the occurrence of injuries. They can also track players' progress during rehabilitation and ensure a safe and optimal return to the field.

A Comparative Look: American Football vs. Soccer:

While American football has embraced data science to revolutionize various aspects of the game, the soccer industry has also witnessed significant advancements, particularly through the case of the German soccer team's utilization of player trackers.

German Soccer Team's Player Trackers: The German national soccer team, known for their meticulous approach, implemented player tracking systems during their successful 2014 FIFA World Cup campaign. By using GPS and accelerometer-based trackers developed by companies like STATSports and Catapult Sports, the team collected data on player movement, speed, acceleration, and distance covered. This data helped the coaching staff analyze player performance and make strategic decisions regarding player selection, tactics, and overall team performance.

American Football's Advanced Analytics: In comparison, the American football industry has gone beyond player tracking alone. The San Francisco 49ers, a team at the forefront of data-driven decision-making, have integrated advanced analytics into their game strategies. In 2020, the 49ers partnered with an artificial intelligence startup, Second Spectrum, to leverage their cutting-edge tracking technology. This technology captures player movements and interactions, allowing the 49ers to analyze complex game scenarios, player positioning, and statistical models. The integration of player tracking, alongside comprehensive data analysis, allows the 49ers to gain deeper insights into the game and make strategic decisions backed by evidence.

Differences in Team Structure and Player Roles: Another key difference between American football and soccer lies in their team structures and player roles. American football teams have clearly defined positions and specific player responsibilities, making it easier to collect and analyze data relevant to individual performance. The Pittsburgh Steelers have utilized this advantage by incorporating data science into their scouting and drafting process. By analyzing a wide range of player data, including college statistics and physical attributes, they have been able to identify undervalued players and make data-informed decisions during the draft.


The application of data science in professional American football and soccer industries has undeniably transformed the way teams analyze and optimize player performance. Practical examples, such as the Seattle Seahawks' player tracking, the New England Patriots' data-driven strategies, the Philadelphia Eagles' injury prevention efforts, and the German soccer team's use of player trackers, showcase the tangible benefits of data-driven insights. As both sports continue to evolve, data science will undoubtedly play an increasingly vital role in shaping their future, empowering teams and athletes to reach new heights of success.