Sports teams are turning to technology to help them find the next generation of soccer stars. When it comes to scouting young players, Mike Caine, a professor of sports technology and innovation at Loughborough University in the United Kingdom, explains to V1 in an exclusive interview that professional teams track emerging players via analytics.
Teams pay big bucks to record and automatically edit match play video content. The technical staff then overlay it with artificial intelligence to sort through high volumes of games and identify/highlight key events, such as goals, free kicks and long-range passes. It can also track players by their shirt numbers, with information in the most sophisticated of setups available in real-time, says Caine.
And players currently on the teams benefit from technology as well. In the UK-based English Premier League (EPL), soccer teams use highly sensitive GPS trackers and advanced data software to improve player analysis and effectiveness.
“Within the professional training environment, teams are looking at indicators of performance – peak running speed, distance traveled, pass accuracy, tackles made and won,” says Caine. “Increasingly, such indicators are being produced automatically using complex machine learning algorithms and pattern [i.e. player/team] recognition systems. Video is typically coupled with motion tracking [GPS type technologies], particularly in training. These can generate more accurate data than video alone.”
In some ways, though, adding new technology across the sport has been no easy task. Early adopters were key to convincing others that it was worth making the change, he says. “Five years ago, some managers were still ‘old-school’ and reluctant to adopt new technologies. [But], essentially, there are whole teams of people providing sports technology and performance analytics support. The more successful teams spend more, and so the cycle of success is reinforced.”
Caine says he expects the next wave of innovation will come from other sports, particularly technical sports. “We’ve seen the success of British Cycling over the last ten years,” he says. “Investment enabled infrastructure to be put in place, including innovation-driven approaches and data-driven decision making. The purists don’t like it, but the success of British Cycling and Team Sky has been phenomenal.”