Case Study: AZ Alkmaar
Arne Jaspers is currently the Performance Data Analyst for Eredivisie’s AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands. Arne is also completing a PhD project in conjunction with the University of Leuven in Belgium in cooperation with TopSportsLab based in Amsterdam. Arne previously studied for a masters in both human movement sciences and physiotherapy, with work focusing on training and coaching in triathlon.
Arne’s ‘typical’ day in the office: “Usually start around 9am to have a meeting with the medical staff and physical coach to look at the data from the previous days to make an overall assessment to provide advice about the training session for the day.
“Around 9:30am players will go into the gym to conduct injury prevention/stretching programme. The players will also provide subjective information around wellness and muscle soreness, from which I report to the physical coach prior to the training session (to see if adaptions need to be made).
“We then prepare for the main training session by putting the Catapult and heart rate devices onto the players which we then monitor live. Key part of this is to break down the session into each individual drill, such as 11v11 games, and my role is to provide feedback to the coaches around whether the players have achieved the pre-determined targets we set. Post session I will analyse the external and internal load data gathered from the Catapult system and compile reports based on our periodisation model.
“The main aim of what we are trying to do at AZ Alkmaar is narrowing the confidence interval for good decision making. Speaking with other practitioners, everyone is trying to find this Holy Grail to best describe the relationship between training load and injuries/performance. My point of view is that we need to measure load objectively and connect with training outcomes throughout the season like medical attention, time loss injuries or fitness test results in order to gradually improve your decision making regarding training load prescription.
“In terms of coaches’ interest, we have had different coaches during my time at the club, and there requirements can vary. For example, one coach just wanted a traffic light-type system to provide red flags when a player is at risk, whereas another coach wanted detailed information using the live system about players work rate.
“We try to educate the players, however the player’s responses can vary from wanted to know lots of information and others just have confidence in us to prepare them to play in matches. How did Arne first hear about Catapult?
“I was previously doing an internship in physiotherapy before I was approached by Robbert de Groot (ex-AZ Alkmaar physical coach, now FC Groningen) to help out using the Catapult system. After three months, they asked me to stay on at the club and I managed to get a grant to study a PhD whilst carrying on my work with AZ. So in a way, I got the job here at the club thanks to Catapult!
“We have been using the Catapult system for three consecutive seasons now, which has helped us to build up a large database on information that helps us prepare players for matches by providing external and internal load data.
“Our general director and former coach went over to Australia to look for new ways to innovate and therefore visited some Australian Rules Football (AFL) clubs who were using Catapult. They liked what they saw and decided to buy the system based on these experiences.
“Personally, I’m really happy with the Catapult system, in particular the support we receive for things like broken units or questions around parameters and the software. The response time is very quick and I find it quite easy to use for things such as scientific research also.
“Prior to using Catapult, we didn’t really know the external load that the players were undertaking. It helps us to understand the load of each drill that the coaches prescribe, which can show how intensive they can be. Previously, we wouldn’t have been able to identify the loading of things such as small sided games, in which we use multiple parameters to quantify the load.
“We had one coach who used a particular type of shooting drill on the day before the match in which the wide players (including full backs) who had to pass to the midfielders and then sprint a long distance along the pitch to receive the ball. They would do 10-15 repetitions which resulted in around 200-300m of high speed distance. We used this data to say to the coach that we need to change this drill, as it was not suitable the day before game. The coach didn’t realise the load would be so high as the drill generally looked quite easy, so the Catapult system helped to educate in this example.”