It was the 88th minute of the final at the World Cup in 2014 and Germany and Argentina were locked in a scoreless draw. With time running out, Joachim Low, Germany’s head coach, decided to insert midfielder Mario Gotze into the game. It was a brilliant decision as it was Gotze who became the only substitute in history to score a World Cup-winning goal. But what you may not know is why the German coach picked Gotze over his other options on the bench, and how wearable technology played an important role in his decision.
Essential reading: Compare sports trackers with our interactive tool
Leading up to competition, the German team wore small devices during practice to monitor everything from speed and distance, to the heart rate of each player. The coach and performance analysts crunched the data after training sessions to see how exactly each athlete performed. This information was then used to plan future workouts more effectively and make better personnel decisions. Ultimately, it turned out this technology played a crucial role in the World Cup outcome.
This is only the beginning. Sports wearables are a growing field and Fifa is, to this end, looking to establish a global wearables standard. The idea is to have all professional teams using the same data-tracking technologies for training purposes. Eventually, some of this technology could make its way into live matches to help doctors and coaches. It could also open a whole host of possibilities for broadcasting, allowing fans to view in-depth player statistics.
There are a number of products on the market that have already built a good customer base with some of the major clubs and amateurs. This is our round-up of what’s out there right now.
Zepp Play Soccer is a small tracker which slips inside a calf sleeve that is sold as part of the bundle. The device pairs via Bluetooth to a smartphone app, which uses a soccer-orientated algorithm to convert statistics into performance crunching data. You also get game reports and optional video highlights.
Once you are ready to play, simply pair the sensor with the mobile app and click “Start Game” to begin tracking. After the match, head over to the app to sync the information. You will get detailed stats on distance travelled, number of kicks and kick speed, number of sprints and maximum speed, and total time of game play. Unlike the company’s other sensors, Zepp Play Soccer is not about helping you train with video tutorials or tips from professionals. Instead, you are meant to use the raw data from the sensor to determine what specific skills you need to improve.
The video recording feature provides a nice, separate dimension to the product. Its perfect for parents wanting to preserve memories of their little ones, or for budding professionals to keep highlights of their accomplishments.
The app automatically produces a post-game summary. There is also a Team Game mode, which lets multiple players connect to the same match by entering a code or by enabling their location to discover nearby games. You can then combine data with other teammates and see how you compare.
The Catapult OptimEye range are the state of the art in wearable athlete monitoring technology. They have been developed by Catapult Sports in conjunction with the Australian Institute of Sport and are now used in more than 20 sports at elite level for fitness, tactical, rehabilitation and technical analysis.
The Catapult range includes four different models: the OptimEye X4, G5 and S5 models and the OptimEye T5 Indoor Local Positioning System. In addition to the Team Sports range there is the OptimEye B5 Rowing/Canoeing specific model.
The G5 is the world’s first Goalkeeper monitor. This chest-strap is used by over 400 sports organisations around the world. It measures dives (direction and intensity), jumps, accelerations, decelerations, changes of direction, repeat high intensity efforts, and time to recovery – allowing for differentiation of physiological demands/loading that may not be determined using traditional velocity measures. Over time, it creates “fingerprints” for each individual, making it bespoke and unique to their needs.
OptimEye X4 is the entry system monitor that helps calculate: force, turn rate, orientation and backward/forward/sideways running. Reports include graphic tools such as plotting player position, velocity, heart rate, effort lengths and recovery time.
OptimEye S5 is the most advanced of the lot. Not only it is military tested, but it is also the world’s first GNSS monitor for team sports. Along with the features of OptimEye X4, this device is the only athlete tracking monitor that measures collisions. It also connects to Open Fields product, which is a highly customized solution for data analysis and performance measurement.
Finally, the OptimEye T5 device allows tracking both indoors and outdoors. Many teams are investing in more modern stadiums having either closed roofs or large overhanging stands which will compromise the GPS reception. The T5 system has been developed in collaboration with one of the World’s leading Scientific research organisations and has been proved to have 10-15cm absolute positioning accuracy.
The Viper Pod is a performance monitoring tool that is used by some of the best teams in the world across multiple sports. This includes the Premier League, NFL, NBA and La Liga. The metrics tracked by this device include distance, speed, acceleration, load distance and heart rate.
The Viper Pod streams this data in real-time through the Viper Live Streaming software and logs it for post-session download. It also has real-time analytic capability to see player position and motion from a birds eye view on a screen. Viper Live Streaming allows coaches to monitor athletes in real-time and adjust training as it happens to meet the objectives of each individual session.
From the outside the Adidas Smart Ball looks just like a normal soccer ball (size 5 and thermal bonded 32-panel), which is a good thing. The miCoach, however, has a built-in sensor that tells you everything you need to know about your kicks so you can learn to control, strike and manipulate the ball like a pro.
Once you connect the smart ball to your Android or iOS device you will get instant feedback on power, spin, strike and trajectory, along with tips and guidance to help you develop on-pitch skills.
For example, when learning how to curve the ball, the app can instruct where and how your foot should strike in order to get the desired result. The trajectory can be mapped out so you can see exactly where the ball has travelled, and this can be zoomed in via a two-finger pinch on the smartphone’s screen and even rotated as a 3D model to get an in-depth look at what’s going on. Or, if its simple training you are after, the measurements are relayed back to the app after each kick.
The great thing about it is that ball feel and reaction is just like a normal soccer ball – you won’t notice any difference.
Adidas also sells something it calls the miCoach Speed cell. Just strap the little pod-like gadget to your shoe and it will to the rest. The device collects performance data and is used in conjunction with the miCoach multi-sport app to measure speed, distance, stride rate, and max speed. It stores up to 8 hours of workout data and clips on to any pair of shoes.
The tracker essentially turns your mobile devices into data-crunching performance analyzers. Regardless whether you use the miCoach training plan or simply track your matches or workouts, you will get detailed feedback after every session.
SockIt, a California-based soccer company, has recently come out with a new gadget which helps improve young players’ technique.
The light-up kicking device is designed for players ages 5-12. Kick the ball and it lights up, giving you instant feedback on whether you have kicked with the correct part of your foot. The idea is to help correct a common problem of kids striking the ball with their toes instead of the middle portion of their foot (the metatarsal bone region).
The one size fits all wearable is designed so that it can be securely fasted to your soccer cleats. The tracker accommodates various positions.
SockIt is made from industrial strength thermal plastic rubber and is able to withstand shock, impact, and other extreme conditions. It is also machine washable. The light-up function is made possible by six LEDs, powered with a replaceable lithium battery.
Catapult Sports announced recently the launch of another way to track soccer performance analytics for amateur players. Called Playertek, the wearable GPS tracker monitors movement and measures physical performance during training and games with distance covered, top speed, sprint distance and number of sprints.
The little pod attaches to a vest that features a compression crop top with a neoprene pocket and back panel, and a lightweight breathable front panel. It then monitors your performance on the pitch with the help of an accelerometer, magnetometer and GPS.
All your data is stored on 8GB of on-board storage, which can hold up to 1,250 hours of football data. At the end of your session, the stats are synced via Bluetooth to the accompanying smartphone app for detailed analysis.
The software shows heat maps based on GPS data so you can see how your positioning changed throughout the game. Full match data is broken down into two halves so you can see whether you need to work on your fitness. The app will also compare your performance to match outputs of Premier League players, so you can see how you stack-up against the game’s best.
This intelligent soccer ball comes from two young brothers in Brooklyn. Just like their connected basketball, most of the clever work is done by the accompanying smartphone app rather than the ball itself. The app tracks the ball in real-time using the smartphone camera, analyses thousands of data points and synthesises this into training feedback. Interactive skills and drills include shooting, juggling and ground work.
The virtual trainer provides audio feedback and grades your performance at the end of each drill. No worries if you are just starting out. The app adopts to the player’s skill level making it a useful whether you are a 4 year old just starting out or a well seasoned professional soccer player.
Best of all, there are no batteries and nothing to charge except your smartphone. Because it doesn’t have any electronics inside, the regulation size and weight ball can be used in all weather conditions for actual games.
Another gadget that you attach to a vest on your back, FieldWiz keeps tabs on a plethora of stats to take your game up a notch. This includes sprints, distance, speed and accelerations, along with a heat map of the covered zones during play, replay of whole games and phases of play. All you need to do is give it your all on the pitch, and sync via bluetooth with the smartphone app back in the locker room. Metrics can be compared between games, players, positions and more.
Created in Switzerland, FieldWiz is based on GPS technology which enables more accurate data than gadgets that purely rely on accelerometers. The product initially started as a Indiegogo campaign but is now available to all.
Last but not least is Trace Soccer. It comes from an outfit that specializes in producing connected gadgets for sports including skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, surfing, kiteboarding, stand up paddle boarding and more.
Worn on the dominant leg, Trace combines sensors, video, and an easy-to-use app to deliver nuanced game insights to your smartphone. You get interactive visuals to better understand team formation, along with off-ball actions, and possession percentages. There is also a smart video editor which uses sensor data to automatically detect and edit key moments.
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