While the media buzz around wearables has died down somewhat, due in part to the noise of VR and AR, they still have a place to play.
I live in Germany where Fußball — you call it soccer or football — is the national passion. Every spati, or convenience store, and bar and cafe for miles has hired a big screen television, invariably situated outside surrounded by tables of beer drinking. Amongst the paraphernalia, there’s a slew of devices in operation in both bring the game closer to fans and tracking and improving the performance of players.
In April this year, the third workshop of the Electronic Performance Tracking Systems (EPTS) expert group took place. The participants represent top leagues, professional clubs and national teams, as well as the IFAB (International Football Association Board) and FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association).
The aim of the expert group is to develop a global standard for EPTS devices, including wearable technology systems. The IFAB approved the use of EPTS devices in principle in March 2015 and gave FIFA’s Football Technology Innovation Department the mandate to develop a global standard for such devices.
Then in July 2015, FIFA issued a memorandum approving the use of wearable electronic performance and tracking systems in matches.
Here are some of the ways wearables are bringing advanced analytics to football.
Intelligent shin pads
Spanish carbon fiber company Carbures has created “intelligent” shin-pads made up of a sensor system and carbon fibre parts for the uniform of the Spanish national football team. An built-in sensor system registers personalized information for each player in every match — including the amount of hits received and the strength of each hit — creating a unique profile for each player. They also assist the team manager when making decisions for matches. The shin-pads register all the data relative to the performance of the players in the playing field, for instance, with which leg they kick the ball, the speed of the hit, the distance travelled in the match or during part of the game, offering key data to the technical staff.
It was revealed at CES last year that the German national squad wore adidas’ miCoach technology during training sessions before and during the World Cup in Brazil. Darcy Norman, a performance data analyst with the German national team revealed that the data would be analyzed after training sessions to see how exactly each athlete performed. Coaches then used the information to plan future workouts more effectively and make better personnel decisions. “We quantify the training sessions to get some benchmark to then have meaningful conversations,” said Norman, when we spoke earlier this year.
STATSports’ Viper Pod is one of the world’s leading performance monitoring tools for football. It includes building sensors into clothes that players can wear on the training ground or even in matches. It’s packed with a GPS module, a series of motion sensors and a heart rate receiver and allows coaches to manage squad training loads from pre-season right through the entire season to effectively manage player conditioning levels and preventing injuries. It monitors valuable metrics such as distance, speed, acceleration, step balance and heart rate and can also report collisions and player fatigue. Clients include the National Football teams of Croatia, England, Northern Island, Wales and Poland.
As part of the Adidas‘ miCoach collection, they also retail a smart football with motion sensors that collects data on speed, twist, strength and trajectory and are the shot data instantly, via Bluetooth 4.0, on to the miCoach Smart Ball app. The accompanying app interprets and outputs the data in near real-time feedback on the force, twist, strength and trajectory again. It also includes instructions about control properties with drills, training tips and suggestions that your contact with the ball and your ball handling improved. It’s priced at at $220 and is available to fans and players.
InsideCoach also offers a smart football which contains motion detection technology that records force of impact, spin, position, trajectory, number of ball passes, number of ball touches, play time, and reports directly to your mobile device in real time, making it your own personal coach on the field. It’s unclear whether any of the players are using the ball, but it could be likely in the future.
Earlier this year at Mobile World Congress, Qualcomm introduced a smart clothing prototype, smart leggings with five sensors packed into the ankle, knee and base of the spine of the clothing. The sensors enable data to be sent over Bluetooth to a smartphone in real-time which could provide a team manager with insight about the positioning of multiple players as well as track data about their physical condition which could assist in player formation decisions and the like. It is only a prototype now but could be a useful tool in the future.
And…smart football boots?
Are smart football boots the one form of wearables that are noticeably absent? In 2011, Adidas released speed cell, a device that clipped into the sole or lacing of football boots. It was designed to store up to 50 unique workouts with a corresponding apps.
The chip uses intelligent sensors to detect when the user is performing their activity and can capture 360° movement and measure speed, average speed, maximum speed, number of sprints, distance travelled, distance at high intensity levels and stride rates. However, it seems to be a product before its time with consumer reviews detailing connectivity and battery problems as late as 2015.
No one company has come up with smart football boots that have been played in football matches. However at Tech World 2016 this year in China, Lenovo unveiled a smart sports shoe prototype that contains an Intel Curie wearable chip. It contained the ability to count steps and tracks calories burned, lights up along the bottom, and contains a customizable 3D-printed insole. It can also charge wirelessly if placed it on a shoe-sized charging panel. Could it be the beginning of smarter shoes?
Ultimately, we can’t yet say that wearables are the difference between winning and losing a football match. But their role in training cannot be ignored, especially as data analytics is used to improve the fitness and skills of both individual players and teams as a whole. It’ll be interesting to see who is in the final and whether their wearables are revealed.