Did you know that athletes are not only monitored by cameras on stadiums, but also by many quirky devices such as accelerometers, heart rate sensors and even local GPS-like systems? Indeed, Big Data and modern technologies are currently revolutionizing sports and even powering the Fantasy Sports industry.
Sports clubs, media outlets and fans around the world all share a thirst for advanced statistics and information. Big clubs use them to improve the performance of their own players, prepare tactics against other teams or scout potentially interesting players. On the other hand, media outlets love data just as much since it gives added value to their reports. Finally, the stats have also outsized importance for fantasy sports managers who create their fantasy teams with individual athletes in top form.
Let’s start with last year’s soccer World Cup in Brazil. While their last FIFA World Cup success can be attributed to many things, the Germans, known for technological know-how, had a trump card in their hands. Many soccer fans raised their eyebrows when it was revealed that the national squad wore Adidas’ miCoach elite team system during training sessions before and during the competition. The physiological monitoring service collects and transmits information directly from the athlete’s bodies, including heart rate, distance, speed, acceleration and power, and then display those metrics live on an iPad. All this information is made available live on an iPad to coaches and trainers on the sideline during training, as well as post-session for in-depth analysis. Interestingly enough, analysis of the data can help identify the fit players from those who could use a rest.
Of course, MiCoach is not the only device of this kind on the market. The major player is actually Australian company Catapult Sports, focused on Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) data, which is increasingly important to sports scientists and coaches, who monitor it to measure player movement and fatigue. As you have likely guessed, the tracking devices rely on GNSS satellites.
However, they also have their own local positioning system, ClearSky, which can be installed around the indoor area of the stadium when obstacles, like a closed roof, interfere with the ability to lock on to individual units. ClearSky uses anchor nodes to track players’ movements, while the devices with transmitters are worn at the top of the back, held in place by a compression shirt that looks a bit like a sports bra and can be worn over or under the uniform.
Another pioneer of wearable tracking devices is GPSport, acquired by Catapult Sports in July, known for its sophisticated performance-monitoring devices that incorporate advanced GPS tracking with heart rate. The combined group now works with more than 450 teams worldwide, including Chelsea, Real Madrid and Brazilian national team.
All these tracking devices fall under the Electronic Performance and Tracking System (EPTS) category. Until mid-2015, soccer players were allowed to wear them only during training. However, on July 7, the international governing body of soccer FIFA issued a memorandum announcing the approval of wearable electronic performance and tracking systems in matches – on the condition that they do not endanger player safety and that information is not available to coaches during matches.
It’s worth noting that every respective association, league or competition has the final decision on whether to adopt or reject EPTS devices.
FIFA has already made a step forward to control the use of these tools for its own competitions. After suffering several concussions, U.S. soccer veteran Ali Krieger chose to wear performance protection headgear from FIFA-approved Unequal Technologies during this month’s women’s soccer tournament in Canada.