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Gasping for Air: Soccer players’ performance at high-altitude

A number of soccer officials have long debated whether to ban soccer games played at high altitudes above sea level. This paper explores soccer player’s performance when playing at high elevations using data obtained from the Copa Libertadores. I propose a range of direct indicators of player performance when playing at high altitudes: the number of total passes, the number of passes in the opposition’s half, and the number of successful passes. I also review the effects on the percentage of successful passes and the percentage of successful passes in the opponents’ half of the field. The performance indicators compare player outcomes when playing away above 2,500 meters (8,202 feet) relative to when they play away below that threshold. The results suggest that, for the most part, altitude has no impact. It does, however, have an impact on variables related to the way a player performs when faced with risky decisions. In particular, I find that the percentage of successful passes rises by about 5.6 percentage points, mostly driven by each player’s behavior in his own half. My findings suggest that players (and coaches) adapt to the conditions. 


Publicado en el Journal of Quantitave Analysis in Sports DOI 10.1515/jqas-2014-0035

Jorge Tovar
Palabras clave:
High-Altitude Performance, Impact Evaluation, Soccer, Soccer Players’ Performance