'Male sports bra' lifting football club's performances
This week and next BusinessCloud is placing the spotlight on how tech is revolutionising sport.
A former Premier League star revealed how data is being used to improve performance and transform the way decisions are taken in football.
“We know exactly whether a player is fit or not, that’s the biggest thing, because we now have the data to support it and it means better decisions can be made on whether they should make the team,” says Gretar Steinsson, now technical director of Fleetwood Town Football Club.
Since he began in his post in January 2015, the former Icelandic international has overseen the adoption of technologies enabling the club’s management to have a better grip on how each player is performing.
In March 2015, Fleetwood started using Catapult GPS trackers, sensors embedded in a kind of male sports bra worn by every player during all training sessions and matches.
The compulsory trackers measure the load that goes through the body, the distance a player is running and the number and speed of the sprints they are making, acceleration and deceleration.
Osmosis tests – a urine sample with data fed into a handheld device – monitor hydration levels first thing in the morning and there are tests to measure body fat and muscle mass, meaning coaches and backroom staff know more than ever before about how players’ bodies are performing.
“The intensity of professional football games has increased, players are getting fitter and the number of games they are playing has increased,” Steinsson, who played five seasons for Bolton Wanderers, says.
“Fleetwood plays three games in eight days so the constant strain these players are under is significant.
“To make sure they are ready every time, and make sure we’re not risking players’ health, we use all possible measurements we can as a League One club to get the most out of the investment that we put into these players.”
Once the data is captured, analysis can begin and Steinsson and the management team meet once a week to go through the findings.
The information can show how certain players react to the winter months or pre-season, for example, and Steinsson says fitness has already improved.
“Since we started measuring in this way the players are running further and running more sprints than they did before,” he says.
“The amount of money football clubs invest in players is phenomenal and we need to be on the ball regarding their welfare and performance, but also players are becoming more professional and wanting to know more about themselves than before.”
The findings can also mean coaching staff can adjust their training methods based on the condition players are in.
In his role, Steinsson attends tech seminars and visits other clubs to see what is being used best, though he says the biggest barrier for clubs like Fleetwood can be cost and having enough staff to run the platforms.
“We have two sports scientists where the big clubs can have close to 20 people,” he says.
“But we’d rather have a few things and do them right. FIFA is getting more accepting about technology and there’s always something new coming up and it’s important for us to choose well.
“It can be a challenge for a club our size but at the same time working to see how we can innovate is always fascinating in any business.”
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The tech played its part in keeping the former non-league club in the third tier of English football last season.
As for how the tech may develop in the future, Fleetwood’s Steinsson believes GPS trackers will adapt to include heart monitors, while the balls themselves will eventually contain trackers to mean competitive decisions can be based on fact rather than opinion.