Stats on the Grass:  A New Data Category from Sportable

Sportable is delivering and developing player performance metrics, in real time, for Football teams at the training ground (AKA the Soccer practice field for our US partners).

This capability is opening up a new data category for teams. We are giving coaches and analysts the opportunity to get live stats on the grass, like the physical preparation team get GPS data to monitor and potentially adapt players’ physical workloads.

The benefits could be significant; from helping coaches optimise training by feeding live metrics specific to the session’s objective, to summarising the technical outputs of players in drills to help plan future sessions, to analysis collated from multiple sessions that deepens player profiling, all of this novel training data can ultimately improve performance.

Here are a couple of examples of how these new training stats could be applied.

1. Technical Load

Coaches can receive a graphical report of a player’s involvements and pitch map immediately post sessions, telling them what a player has done (see example figure 1 below).

Used regularly, teams will establish the expected levels and types of involvements of their commonly used drills, per position or player. Once done, the data becomes useful to evaluate players’ activity and exposure within drills and across sessions, where players’ outputs can be compared against typical team or positional norms. Again, this is akin to how sports scientists evaluate known drills affect physical load and intensity.

Sportable worked with a professional Academy last season. The coaches receiving these training stats used them, on occasion, to alter the subsequent day’s session design. They did this to ensure specific position groups were more involved, giving them a chance to practice the key actions ahead of the upcoming match and the key skills prescribed in their development plans.

We could call this kind of data the Technical Load. If it is helpful to quantify athletes’ training stimulus to deliver the right level of physical load, then analogously it will help to be objective about the skill and tactical learning stimuli so coaches can apply an effective technical load. Sportable provides a method to represent and quantify this, and for Analysts and Sports Scientists to integrate their evaluation of training drills by their technical and physical impact.

Figure 1: Frequency, distribution, and location of passes, carries and shots from a player in a representative training session. Data is fictionalised, but realistic.

2. Technical Profiling and Benchmarking

Coaches and Analysts can use automated training stats to dive into how players are performing, not just what they have done. This could be very beneficial for both player development and evaluation. For example, figure 2 below charts a comparison of five - fictional but realistic - midfielders’ passing stats from 10 v 10 game scenario drills. Teams can use this data to assess players’ training ground performance in possession on i) how technically active they were (pass per 90 min) ii) how progressive they were (forward pass ratio) and iii) how quick they were (time on ball). Please note, this is just an example output, as teams can create analytics of value for the key on-the-ball player stats utilising location, outcome, time and direction context data.

Figure 2: Passes per 90 minutes, Ratio of Forward Passes to Total, and Time on Ball stats for 5 midfield players during one game scenario drill during one training session.  Midfield average values from aggregated game scenario drills are shown for comparison and context. Data is fictionalised, but realistic.

Currently, objective profiling data like this is typically available only from matches. So teams miss evaluating players during training, which is a significant proportion of their football development time. Furthermore, the Smart Ball provides access to technical data, like the Time on Ball metric, that is prohibitively time consuming except as a special analysis project.

A clear benefit will come from collecting training stats consistently over time, as teams will establish positional and age group benchmarks, across key types of drill. These benchmarks can then be used to set targets and analyse training relative to match performance levels.

However, an immediate benefit of having access to training stats for player development is they can be used to support subjective analysis of how players are progressing. For example, the professional Academy coaches provided with Sportable data last season used it as evidence of players’ individual development goals, or IDPs as they are known in England.

Football clubs who embrace this new data category will further their analytics capability across the age groups and into the 1st team. In turn, this will open up new ways to raise performance in training and enhance processes to evaluate talent, thus delivering competitive edge. Exciting times ahead as we develop our understanding and capability in this area: if you would like to be part of the journey please reach out.