By Todd Atkins
Football (or Soccer in the US) has come a long way from a human performance perspective in the past decade, but there are still opportunities for advancements in managing athlete data.
An AMS like Smartabase can help football clubs make meaningful progress by collecting, collating, and visualizing data in a way that drives better performance and recovery interventions. Below are the top five integrations clubs can create between a performance management platform and wearables and other tech so they can gain insights that drive improvements in training, games, and players’ overall wellness.
FOR LOAD MANAGEMENT
GPS was one of the first technologies to make a splash in football almost 20 years ago. Initially, clubs were most interested in rudimentary numbers such as total distance covered by each player, total sprint distance, and so on. But over the past few years, advances in GPS have made it easier to track measurables that pertain more to the load that each player is being subjected to.
Such metrics can be monitored live during training and viewed in hindsight afterward. The key data sets are often very similar for different clubs, making it easier to establish best practices.
The sports science team can use the insights gleaned from GPS feeds to evaluate whether each member of the squad trained enough to prompt the desired physiological adaptations or too much so that they were unable to recover between sessions and weren’t fresh enough on game day. They can then make informed adjustments to programming to dial in individualized training plans.
While GPS provides greater context for the external load placed on football players, heart rate (HR) tracking offers a glimpse into the internal loads they’re being subjected to – something GPS doesn’t capture. Certain GPS systems integrate heart rate monitoring, whereas a bespoke solutions provide more sophisticated collection and a more granular view of the data.
Integrating an athlete management system (AMS) like Smartabase with dedicated HR monitors or smartwatches equipped with this function enables the performance staff to assess how well each athlete’s cardiovascular system is responding to training stimuli. In addition, evaluating heart rate in real time and viewing historical data can help identify those occasions when external and internal loads become uncoupled. Injured players can also be assigned training in various heart zones to get them back in match-ready condition.
FOR STRENGTH & CONDITIONING
Tracking S&C load has become an increasing priority in football recently. Whilst GPS plays a key part on the training pitch, what happens in the gym can also place a substantial load on players and therefore needs to be taken into account when evaluating load management. When the AMS is integrated with an S+C system like TeamBuildr, this makes it easier for the S&C coaches to balance training in the offseason, preseason, and once league and cup play commence.
Continually assessing S+C load in concert with what’s happening in training and matches doesn’t merely offer advantages for player development but also for minimizing the risk of injury. Certainly, a player shouldn’t become overloaded, which will leave them drained before kickoff and make them more susceptible to strains, sprains, and other maladies. But neither can a club fail to expose them to adequate load, as this can lead to deconditioning. This becomes particularly important as a player is trying to bounce back from an injury. During their rehabilitation, the S&C coaches can evaluate their load as they cautiously increase volume, intensity, and density to get them closer to being cleared to return to play.
FOR PERFORMANCE TESTING & MONITORING
Force-measuring devices are another key integration point for a football club’s AMS. VALD’s ForceDecks, NordBord, and similar systems enable sports scientists to evaluate and monitor athletes during each training cycle, while also managing load and quantifying the rehab progress of players who are sidelined with injury.
Hamstring strains are one of the most common and pervasive musculoskeletal issues for any football club. Force testing can provide warning signs that players’ hamstrings aren’t strong and durable enough to withstand the forces they’ll be subjected to in training and matches.
There is clear research on the correlation between hamstring strength and players’ injury risk, which is why integrating the performance management platform and a force testing system is so crucial in minimizing injury risk. Such a connection gives the club the ability to test key metrics throughout the season, identify and correct left-right asymmetries, and become aware if a player’s strength drops off during the competitive season.
Platforms like ForceFrame extend such capabilities to other areas of players’ bodies, including their hips, knees, shoulders, and ankles. Being able to visualize this information in Smartabase or a similar AMS makes it easier to identify and correct movement dysfunction and strength deficiencies. The ForceDecks platform enables strength and conditioning coaches to conduct 15+ tests related to power development and can also be used to measure central nervous system fatigue.
For Major League Soccer, integrations with digital scales, such as Rice Lake’s bluetooth-enabled scales, save time and improve accuracy by directly sending daily weigh in data to your AMS.
FOR MATCH STATISTICS
In-game and post-game statistical analysis is one of the hottest topics in football. As with GPS, this discipline has progressed by leaps and bounds in the past few years, and some top clubs have entire teams dedicated to it. While early stats were tied to players’ effort level and work rate, newer data sets offer insights into the tactical element of the sport so managers and their assistants can see how players are performing within their desired style of play.
This is why integrating the AMS with a match statistics platform like STATS Perform can have such a big impact. Game day evaluations can also help clubs be better prepared to make moves that will improve their squads during the transfer window.
Brentford FC became the Moneyball of English football with their approach to identify bargain-priced talent through statistical analysis, and it helped vault them into the Premier League. In an era of over-inflated transfer fees, this is a valuable way to find diamonds in the rough who can strengthen a club and improve their chances of promotion.
FOR WELLNESS TRACKING
The previous four integrations have mainly focused on player performance, load management, and injury mitigation. But a football club would be remiss if it didn’t integrate the AMS with a wellness tracker like the Oura ring. This is a simple way to collect health information about players – including heart rate, sleep, and heart rate variability (HRV) – that can be difficult to obtain from them directly, particularly for the other 22 hours of the day they’re not at the team facility.
All of these measurables can define how well a player performs in matches, training, and the gym, and also relate to their overall health. Furthermore, if someone is sleeping poorly, this puts them at greater risk of injury and illness. Some wellness tracking information, such as a spike in body temperature and a change in respiration rate, can be an indicator that a player has contracted COVID, the flu, or another virus. The medical team can flag this inside Smartabase and take the necessary action.
Integrating the systems detailed above with an AMS can provide football clubs with a competitive advantage. When they’re able to collect, collate, visualize, and apply data-driven insights, sports scientists are better equipped to adjust training and recovery protocols, reduce injury risk, and maximize match day results.
The Smartabase human performance platform serves as the central hub for all your performance, health, and medical data. To learn more about all the integrations available, visit fusionsport.com/smartabase/data-aggregation.