Passing Network Analysis of Positional Attack Formations in Handball

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Florian Korte, Martin Lames

The aim of this study was to characterize handball from a social network analysis perspective by analyzing 22 professional matches from the 2018 European Men’s Handball Championship. Social network analysis has proven successful in the study of sports dynamics to investigate the interaction patterns of sport teams and the individual involvement of players. In handball, passing is crucial to establish an optimal position for throwing the ball into the goal of the opponent team. Moreover, different tactical formations are played during a game, often induced by twominute suspensions or the addition of an offensive player replacing the goalkeeper as allowed by the International Handball Federation since 2016. Therefore, studying the interaction patterns of handball teams considering the different playing positions under various attack formations contributes to the tactical understanding of the sport. Degree and flow centrality as well as density and centralization values were computed. As a result, quantification of the contribution of individual players to the overall organization was achieved alongside the general balance in interplay. We identified the backcourt as the key players to structure interplay across tactical formations. While attack units without a goalkeeper were played longer, they were either more intensively structured around back positions (7 vs. 6) or spread out (5 + 1 vs. 6). We also found significant differences in the involvement of wing players across formations. The additional pivot in the 7 vs. 6 formation was mostly used to create space for back players and was less involved in interplay. Social network analysis turned out as a suitable method to govern and quantify team dynamics in handball
DOI: 10.2478/hukin-2019-0044
Key words
social network analysis, temporal networks, centrality measures, performance analysis, tactical analysis, team sports

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