In 2018, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and Catapult agreed a deal to make athlete monitoring technology available to all 54 of the national federations under CAF’s jurisdiction.
During the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, participating teams used Catapult wearable devices to help inform practice and decision making around team and player performance.
One of the squads was the South African men’s national team. We caught up with Joshua Smith, sports scientist and strength and conditioning coach with Bafana Bafana, to hear about how the team used Catapult’s PlayerTek technology during their pre-tournament training camp in Dubai.
For Joshua and the rest of South Africa’s coaching staff, one of the main benefits of the technology has been the ability to manage the load of players as they report for the national team from various clubs around the world.
“We have a squad of players who play in England, Holland, France, Belgium and South Africa; with players all finishing their leagues at different times and having accumulated a varied amount of match minutes over the course of the season,” says Joshua. “The PlayerTek equipment allows for us to objectively manage the varied load of the players when they report to the national team, helping to reduce the risk of injury and ensure that we find the right balance between stress and rest.”
When it comes to establishing consistent workflows and routines around athlete monitoring, Joshua has made it a priority to build a process that combines the GPS data with subjective wellness information from the players themselves.
“Our players wear the pods at every training session, with the training data being analysed after the session,” Joshua says. “This information, combined with recovery and wellness scores, as well as RPE, allows for us to make informed decisions on player loading and periodisation.”
As well as establishing robust and effective workflows, Joshua is committed to making sure that the players in the Bafana Bafana squad are fully engaged with the athlete monitoring work they are exposed to. For South Africa’s players, this usually takes the form of reviewing metrics after each session and sitting down for one-on-one feedback if necessary.
“Our players are mostly interested in data after games; they all want to see their metrics, especially how far they’ve run,” says Joshua. “It’s been a gradual process of educating the players on the metrics and what they mean. Post-session I will take a look at the data and have individual discussions with players on their session performance if they didn’t hit the targets that were set.”
As well as monitoring the performance of their athletes and engaging them with data, South Africa have also found the technology to be a useful tool for improving relationships with the clubs of the national team players. With many clubs concerned about players getting injured while on international duty, the data Joshua and his team receive can be shared with the clubs to help build mutual trust and understanding.
“Beyond engaging with the athletes, the performance data is also shared with the players’ clubs post-camps. This is something we have done to develop meaningful relationships with their clubs.”
We look forward to working with South Africa as they continue to develop their use of wearable technology and build processes that encourage the positive, impactful and sustainable use of performance data.