The monitoring of soccer stars on the pitch and at the training ground requires sophisticated monitoring technology. After a year's delay due to the COVID-19 crisis, the UEFA Euro 2020 football tournament, featuring counties from across Europe, is finally underway, kicking off on June 11th. Amongst the hype and excitement for the return of the beautiful game to stadiums with fans back in attendance came a stark reminder that the health of these sportsmen and women, admired by millions, must not be neglected.
During a match between Denmark and Finland, Danish player Christian Eriksen collapsed on the pitch. The experience was traumatic for fans and players alike.
Football is an intense game that requires physical exertion, meaning that aside from the risk of accident and injury, the strain of this exertion can exacerbate pre-existing, undiagnosed conditions. One of the most high-profile examples of this was the cardiac arrest of Fabrice Muamba during a 2012 FA cup match between Bolton and Spurs. Fortunately, Muamba recovered despite his heart being stopped for 78 minutes. He was able to go on to a career training the aspiring youth players of Rochdale football club.
Other players have not been as fortunate, though. In 2017 Ivory Coast national and ex-Newcastle United player, Cheick Tiote collapsed and died during a training session with his new team Beijing Enterprises. Likewise, in a 2007 match against Dundee United, Motherwell legend Phil O'Donnell collapsed on the pitch after suffering left ventricular failure. O'Donnell died after being rushed to a local hospital.
Clearly, these tragedies emphasize that efficient and precise monitoring of health is vital to both the players themselves and the clubs for which they play. It is also important that these interventions are as unobtrusive as possible, thus not hindering the movement of players during a match or training session.
This need has led to the growth of monitoring sensors for footballers and other athletes that collect data and feed it back to coaches and medical staff. And science is working to ensure these devices are as efficient and unobtrusive as possible.
Intelligent Wearable Devices for Footballers
China-based researchers Tao Yang, Institute of Physical Education, North Minzu University, Guoliang Yuan, College of Physical Education, Hengshui University and Jing Yan from the Chinese Academy of Customs Administration, set about analyzing the application status and prospects of big data in the field of health management for football players.
The three researchers are the authors of a paper¹ published in a special edition of the journal Scientific Programming, which tracks big data in the monitoring of players' physical and mental health to help develop intelligent wearable devices. They embarked on a series of experiments to demonstrate the successful application of such science in sports.
The team used a single-person motion capture device equipped with 11 sensors distributed across the wearer's body to monitor the responses of footballers from across the globe. The motion capture equipment could relay back information on individual limb acceleration, magnetic field strength, and angular velocity. This data was collected by a PC equipped with software capable of analyzing it to create a model of human posture. From here, the researchers could research things like energy consumption.
It also gave the scientists a view of which devices are best suited to monitoring players' fitness. In addition to this, it gave them a picture of how such technology can be improved.
In assessing the current generation of intelligent wearable devices the team found that there was a bias in where on the body such tech is worn that may be disfavorable to footballers. "From the perspective of the products used in the wearable intelligent devices, 30% of the products are worn on the wrist and 26% and 22% of the products are worn on the upper body and head, respectively. 15% of the products do not have clear requirements for the wearing parts," says the authors quoting an earlier piece of research. "However, the feet seem to be the least favored part of the intelligent wearable devices, and only 7% of the products choose the feet."
The researchers found that even though the era of wearable, intelligent tech has only really just begun, such devices have already worked their way into all aspects of sports. But monitoring footballers isn't all about health, be it physical or mental.
Football clubs want to get the most out of players who often represent a vast financial investment. This means monitoring a minute of data that allows coaches to determine how players are best used on the pitch.
Big Match Means Big Data
Football clubs are currently monitoring player health with the use of common devices such as heart monitors and compression vests. But, Playermaker² — a Tel Aviv-based start-up that focuses on collecting and analyzing data for footballers — is just one company that is expanding this monitoring capability with a range of devices that collect and relay a vast array of data. And perhaps unsurprisingly, for soccer stars from the upper echelons of the game to the Sunday leagues, this starts at the feet.
The crown jewel in the monitoring arsenal offering by Playermaker — currently supported by both the English Football Association (FA) and the international governing body of football (FIFA) — is a boot-mounted device that relays data back to the bench.
The tracker allows coaches to monitor data on an entire squad. Amongst the detailed wealth of stats that are recorded is how many touches of the ball a player takes, and even if one leg is slightly longer than the other — something which may seem like predentary, but could actually tell managers which side of the field younger players such be deployed on.
And there's a more serious side to the device. By tracking the strength at which a player is attacking the ball, the boot-mounted tracker could help medical staff in the rehabilitation of injured players. By tracking how footballers are running and moving the device could even help coaches assess and prevent potential injury.
Monitoring vests like those created by Playertek that improve performance by tracking players via GPS are becoming an increasingly common sight for football fans at grounds up and down the UK.
Whilst the innovators of these instruments are eager to point out their uses extend beyond affluent Premier League teams in the UK to semi-pro and amateur sides, and beyond football itself to all forms of sports and athletics, it's clear that monitoring tech is keeping the beautiful game's ugly side at bay.
1. Yang. T., Yuan. G., Yan. J., , 'Health Analysis of Footballer Using Big Data and Deep Learning,' Scientific Programming, [https://doi.org/10.1155/2021/9608147]
2. Playermaker [https://playermaker.com]