Al Pacino once said, under the guise of American Football coach Tony D’Amato, in the Hollywood blockbuster ‘Any Given Sunday’, that success was all about inches. The difference between winning or losing can be measured to an inch. A football goes into the top corner of the goal or hits the crossbar, a sprinter wins or loses, A rugby players scores a try or just misses out … that inch can cause the difference.
Coaches such as Alex Ferguson have spent years looking at how to gain that extra inch, using high performance training techniques, psychologists and technology. Now though, with high end tech becoming available to consumers, the world of pro and grassroots sports are set to collide.
This week on the May Rept Showcase we were lucky enough, in conjunction with data specialists Pernix, GPS tech company SPT and the Australian College of Sport to bring GPS technology to the players, allowing us to see how their performance was effected by the weather, the position they had been put in and in fact just wearing the GPS unit itself.
6 players per game were hooked up to the system and data analysts were on hand to look at the data created and feedback to the players how their game changed over time in accordance to position, weather conditions and general fatigue.
Sitting down with the players after the first game, to discuss the findings, it was plain to see how powerful this tool is just to their mental game. Now having the ability to know scientifically how you have performed, as opposed to just hearing a coaches opinion about your work rate etc seemed to motivate players to increase their performance. One example of this can be seen when discussing the distance covered throughout the game by a player in km.
The average EPL player is looking to cover on average around 18km per game, in SE Asia you can knock off around 2km to this figure for the top leagues. After the first game our players figures were closer to 12km, way under the average needed from a player at the top of his game. 2 factors were clear to see on this. 1) for many this was their first time playing in such heat, 2) their performance in the final third was bringing their average down, with the final third showing much more movement at walking pace.
In the meeting with the players to discuss this data the amount of time walking, running and sprinting was discussed, showing them at what points throughout the game they were conserving and utilising their energy best. Their positional play using the systems heatmap feature was also brought up, showing certain players who had kept to their role in their team more stringently had conserved energy better.
The key thing for us that came from this meeting was just how well the players were taking this on board, the data is well presented and easy to understand, and so players could see quickly what they had to do to increase their performance. In our first game we had lost 3-1 and you had the feeling with this info now at the players disposal they were not going to lose the second game.
True to form performance for game 2 increased, seeing an improvement in work rate and positional sense from the players, alongside a much more consistent pattern of conserving energy, which allowed them to play at peak levels when needed. This was best illustrated by French winger Bryan Muntu, whose game relies on having pockets of energy available to him as he picks his moment to burst down the wing. In the first game his ability to suddenly attack players was hampered the longer the game went on, with charts showing that he spent a lot of time walking. In the second game he was the highest performer on the pitch attracting interest from a T2 club.
With Rept winning the final game 3-2 and with a much improved performance on the pitch it was plain to see not only the physical improvements but also the mental intelligence that the tech gives to the players in the game.
We caught up with Pernix Director Aaron Reynolds to chat to him about GPS data generating technology and find out where he sees the future of grass roots sports performance related technology going.
Hi Aaron, using SPT and Pernix data this week certainly hit home to us how this technology can help players take their performance to the next level … what sports are currently utilising this?
We have been working extensively with the Australian Football League who are leaders not only domestically but also globally, with second-by-second GPS tracking during training and in-game for all 44 players, to understand average and maximum speed, direction and acceleration. We are now taking this knowledge and working with the A-league, NBL and World Football Teams in the UK.
With similar units now a mainstay in the Premier League and top leagues around the world how do you see the industry expanding in the coming years?
Advanced analytical possibilities have emerged with the emergence of player tracking data, resulting in spatial-temporal (X-Y coordinates over time) datasets
This data presents a huge opportunity to gain competitive advantage over the competition due to its recency and relative difficulty to extract actionable insights:
Player position tendencies
Team structure tendencies
Testing gut-feel hypotheses about game style and impact on success
Identify weaknesses & opportunities in opposition style
Create, track and analyse new metrics representing game styles
But GPS is just one aspect, Pernix combines multiple sources of data, across Stats, GPS, Wireless sEMG, DXA, ForcePlate as examples, to create a more complete picture of an athlete, powering insights to another level, enabling us to ask and answer different questions.
Up until now sports data has needed analysts to decipher what the data meant, but companies like Pernix seem to be making everything more accessible, how are you doing this?
We automate the process, through consolidation of data then applying data science techniques to uncover hidden patterns in the data to find competitive advantage, all packaged up and accessible via a mobile platform with a rich user interface.
Is there a place for this tech at the grassroots of football … possibly even to a parent who wants to see how their child is progressing in their chosen sport?
Absolutely, we are investing a lot of time and effort into the grass roots community, partnerships with the likes of REPT and ACS are helping us develop solutions that we can package up for amateur leagues and juniors that aspire to be elite.
What is next for GPS technology and Sports tech in general?
Pernix also offers a first-of-kind sEMG wearable and data generating technology (compression short with Bluetooth LTE’s) to maximise the outcome of Return to Play, Prepare to Play and Perform at Play. This allows us to gain new insights into player performance including muscle activation, load, intensity, form and function in real-time to maximise rehabilitation, strength and minimise injury, some clubs are considering using this as a screening mechanism (select to play) before contracting, as you can look inside the body and identify injury/form and function.
You can find out more about Pernix and how they are bringing their data driven tech into the sports world by visiting www.pernix.com.au