Sports Medicine

, Volume 48, Issue 1, pp 17–28 | Cite as

What’s Next in Complex Networks? Capturing the Concept of Attacking Play in Invasive Team Sports

  • João Ramos
  • Rui J. Lopes
  • Duarte Araújo
Review Article


The evolution of performance analysis within sports sciences is tied to technology development and practitioner demands. However, how individual and collective patterns self-organize and interact in invasive team sports remains elusive. Social network analysis has been recently proposed to resolve some aspects of this problem, and has proven successful in capturing collective features resulting from the interactions between team members as well as a powerful communication tool. Despite these advances, some fundamental team sports concepts such as an attacking play have not been properly captured by the more common applications of social network analysis to team sports performance. In this article, we propose a novel approach to team sports performance centered on sport concepts, namely that of an attacking play. Network theory and tools including temporal and bipartite or multilayered networks were used to capture this concept. We put forward eight questions directly related to team performance to discuss how common pitfalls in the use of network tools for capturing sports concepts can be avoided. Some answers are advanced in an attempt to be more precise in the description of team dynamics and to uncover other metrics directly applied to sport concepts, such as the structure and dynamics of attacking plays. Finally, we propose that, at this stage of knowledge, it may be advantageous to build up from fundamental sport concepts toward complex network theory and tools, and not the other way around.


Compliance with Ethical Standards


This work was partly supported by the Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia, under Grant UID/DTP/UI447/2013 to CIPER—Centro Interdisciplinar para o Estudo da Performance Humana (unit 447).

Conflict of interest

João Ramos, Rui J. Lopes, and Duarte Araújo have no conflicts of interest directly relevant to the content of this review.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ISCTE-Instituto Universitário de LisboaLisbonPortugal
  2. 2.Universidade Europeia, Laureate International UniversitiesLisbonPortugal
  3. 3.Instituto de TelecomunicaçõesLisbonPortugal
  4. 4.CIPER, Faculdade de Motricidade HumanaUniversidade de LisboaLisbonPortugal

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