Microsoft and the Norwegian national football team explain how analytics and video could aid the squad and the country’s health service
A total of 209 national football associations are members of FIFA, the sport’s governing body, yet there are just 32 places at the quadrennial World Cup, an equation that ultimately leads to a lot of disappointed teams.
Some countries, such as Brazil, Germany and Italy usually have no problems qualifying thanks to relatively large talent pools, but smaller countries are at a disadvantage. Unlike club teams, they can’t go out and buy new players but must make the most of their natural resources.
Norway has made just three appearances at the World Cup – the most recent of which was France 98 – but it believes the combination of a young team, sports science and technology can help it qualify for the European Championships next year and ultimately end its absence from the World stage in 2018.
IoT in sport
Coaches are using Microsoft Power Bi analytics to collect data on training performance, along with video analysis to provide instant feedback to coaches and players. It is hoped the use of sensors and video can boost individual achievement, support developing tactics and reduce the risk of injury.
“The next tipping point in elite sport performance is technology,” Dag Johansen, professor at the University of Tromso and a visiting professor at Cornell University. “International soccer has come to a point when so many teams are similar at an elite level in terms of elite performance”
Johansen specialises in the intersection of sport science, the Internet of Things (IoT) and big data technologies and is convinced that even if technology can improve performance by just one percent, it can be a big deal.
He says the use of IoT and wearables could monitor positional and health data and send it to a central repository where it can be analyses. Detailed maps, trajectories and paths can be produced, helping coaches decide on tactics, selection and substitution, providing additional information to complement natural intuition.
This data, along with real time video, can be delivered through mobile applications in real time and could eventually be used to improve the viewer experience.
Kenneth Wilsgard, head of performance analysis at the Norwegian Centre of Football Excellence, said the Norway national football team is an ideal fit for the use of analytics. He described head coach Per-Mathias Høgmo as “forward thinking” and said the fact the team was one of the youngest in Europe meant the team is more receptive to new ideas and to technology.
International coaches often complain about the lack of time they have with their players, so the ability to give immediate feedback is valued, as is the fact it can be delivered to mobile devices so players can see it no matter where they are in Europe.
“We work with learning, we try to be more efficient in the way we work with players. More rapid and better feedback and really interacting with the players in a new way,” Wilsgard told TechWeekEurope. “When you manage a team, you have players spread around Europe, and the world, using tech you can interact with the players and give them tools to learn every day. That’s the meeting between innovation and a practical field.”
The FA in England has also recognised the benefits of such technology and has facilities at the National Football Centre at St George’s Park to provide video and data analysis to every England team.
Wilsgard said he had seen a number of different approaches across Europe, but felt the technology used in Norway was at least equal to other nations: “I really think we’re heading in the right direction.”
The programme is supported by the Norwegian Research Council and Microsoft Development Centre Norway, both of which are using machine learning and analytics to create new services and it is hoped the health benefits from elite sport applications could eventually be applied to the general public.
Oslo University Hospital already uses Power Bi analytics in Office 365 to create data models, visual presentations and reports using the data, speeding up the dispersal of information.
Bjørn Olstad, Microsoft Corporate Vice President believes sports research runs parallel to healthcare and views top athletes as the “ideal laboratory” to fine tune health applications for wider use.
Microsoft isn’t the only company using sports a high profile showcase and development lab for analytics and IoT applications. SAP, IBM and others are also those providing services to other sports and teams and organisations, all of whom are keen to gain an edge on their competitors.
Wilsgard, who has worked at a number of Norweigan sports clubs before his assumed his current role, is convinced technology will change professional sport for the better.
“There have been huge developments in the past decade,” he said. “I think we’re only seeing the beginning of the way technology can change sport into something different. I hope it will impact it in a positive way.”
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