Wearable technology pioneer takes game data analysis to next level

Inside World Football

October 26 - As the date nears for companies to present their electronic performance and tracking systems to IFAB and FIFA, Insideworldfootball has spoken to wearable technology market pioneers Catapult about how far the technology can inform decision-making, including in-game, how it can be used generally, and what FIFA/IFAB are looking for. 

Catapult was born in 2006 in view to developing wearable sensors to take the monitoring of elite athletes outside of the artificial laboratory environment and into the actual domain of competition. The vision was to provide realistic insight into athlete risk, readiness and return to play.

Since the successful experimentation at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Catapult has developed technology for use in over 30 sports.

Current football clients include AC Milan, AFC Ajax, Bayer Leverkusen, Newcastle United, Seattle Sounders and Celtic FC, in addition to the mens national teams of Brazil, Colombia, Australia, Sweden, Uruguay and the United States. In all, Catapult has 100 football clients listed on its website.

Catapult possesses technology, in the words of Barry McNeill who is Catapult's CEO for the Europe, Middle East and Africa region, that "has an unprecedented local positioning system, which provides pinpoint accuracy and allows players, coaches and sports science staff to have credible, trustworthy output (data, analytics and animations.)"

This capability "ingests data from other sources within the performance ecosystem" that will enable the technology to "become the platform for teams/athletes performing analytics."

This, in turn, will help to drive key decision making by teams and players that can be utilised during the game.

McNeil stated, "for player safety alone it would be sensible to monitor player load during the game to avoid cardiac, fatigue and preventable injuries."

However, that is not all the technology is good for. Catapult's Marketing Director Boden Westover said the aim is to "be touching every part of the team's 'performance' - tactical, injury risk, sleep, hydration, well-being, readiness etc."

The aforementioned safety concerns are one of three things mentioned that McNeil believes FIFA/IFAB are looking for. He said, "for football to consider this move to permit wearables on players in game, they have rightly identified that player adoption, safety and welfare is paramount."

McNeil continued to say that he feels FIFA/IFAB are looking to garner greater understanding of the technologies on offer and are looking for thought leadership.

To the latter end he believes Catapult are well positioned because "Catapult invented the product category and is responsible for every innovation along the way."

Buttressing his argument are roughly 100 peer-reviewed independent research papers on the topic, Catapult's establishment of 750 elite teams worldwide, and their role as educators in the industry.

In terms of understanding, "FIFA is seeking to find out the differences between wearable technology and optical tracking." McNeil listed and summarised some of the differences:

• Accuracy - Due to device being on athlete

• Training and match - Close the loop between the two

• Immediacy of data - Real time and post-session

• Depth of data - Much deeper sports science metrics

• Individual analysis - Fingerprint summary of each athletes

McNeil emphasized that there is a "danger that a technology company fails to understand the complexities and nuances of 'the world's game' and exploits the naivety by pushing the technology too hard and without educating the users."

Therefore, he concludes: "The industry needs educating, and players, managers, sports scientists need to be better equipped to understand the depths of data and what it does and doesn't mean."

As to what this data can mean, McNeil motioned to other sports like rugby and AFL, teams where the data is used to inform substitutions. These example demonstrate that "it does work" to use the data during games.

And he suggested there is an inevitability to this data being "provided to the media industry for enhancing customer experience" because "Professional sport needs fans and fans needs to see their best talent on the field, so with the emerging millennial generation both players and consumers will demand this type of data live from their sporting teams."

Despite FIFA's public chastisement for being slow on the technological uptake, Westover stated, "FIFA has been similar to each individual league we work with around the world" in respect to how technology is introduced and spreads:

"A few of the more innovative, before-the-curve teams will adopt Catapult, use will spread organically across the league, and then notice has to be taken from the top level as to how this fits in with their strategy."

It appears though FIFA has reached the notice stage, and in November this will turn to scrutiny as the interested manufacturers display what they have to offer.