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Goooaal! Students Scoring with Computer Science

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Students at Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ are using their computer skills to help score goals on the soccer field. Computer science master's degree students developed Soccer Scoop, a computer application that allows soccer coaches to take player evaluation into the Information Age.

Instead of just looking at statistics on paper, Soccer Scoop turns those statistics into visual representations that reflect players' skill levels. Coaches won't be looking at pie charts or bar graphs but rather images of soccer players and soccer fields. By using images familiar to the user, Soccer Scoop reduces confusion and brings out hidden information that might be missed in raw data.

Players' skills are rated on a scale of 1-4, with 4 being the best. These skill levels are displayed on a picture of a soccer player. For example, the head on the picture represents the player's head ball skills. A green head represents a skill level 4. A user would easily see that this player has excellent head ball skills.

Another feature of the application displays more details of a player's skill set through the image of a soccer field. The soccer goal represents the precision of the player for a respective skill, such as footwork. Most people would associate precision with kicking a soccer ball into a goal. The goal fills up horizontally based on the precision value for the given skill. The better the precision, the more filled in the goal.

Coaches can use these pictures to track player's skill over time. This can help coaches determine weaknesses and develop exercises to improve on those skills. The application also allows coaches to compare one player to another. It can help to determine what positions players would be best in and if a team should trade one player for another.

This application was developed as part of a graduate computer science class assignment. Students had to develop an application that would take raw data and turn it into a visual representation familiar to a user.

The students' professor, Adrian Rusu, says, "In my courses, I am always looking for real-world applications for students to apply what they learn in the classroom. The students realize their work matters well beyond their grades and become more motivated and creative, which results in improved grasp of course content."

Graduate students Edward Burns, 29; Benjamin Hample, 25; Kevin McGarry, 27; and Robert Russell, 22, along with Rusu, decided that it would be helpful to have a program that would turn sports statistics into more than just numbers. The team picked soccer because while it is the most popular sport worldwide, there are not a lot of computer applications designed for it.

They collaborated with Doru Stoica, a professor in the Department of Physical Education at the University of Craiova in Romania. Stoica provided statistics from the local soccer team, which competes in the first division of Romanian professional soccer. These statistics were then plugged into the application to demonstrate its features.

The students presented their work at the 14th International Conference of Information Visualization at London South Bank University in July. "Having students present at an international conference and interact with experts from around the world brings the students to the highest level of thinking," Rusu says.

Burns adds, "Using our classroom knowledge to create this real-world technology was thrilling. The fact that it was well received at the conference excited us even more."

Burns is continuing to work on this project. He has made the application more user-friendly and accessible on the web. Burns hopes these improvements will expand real-world user interest. He traveled to Sao Paulo, Brazil, this summer to show the application to interested soccer coaches.


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