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In the future: wearable tech will be fashionable, but be wary…

Ten years from now, managers and head coaches will stand in the technical area as they always have, gesturing wildly while shouting inaudible tactical instructions to their players over the din of packed stadia. They also will check their watches and adjust their glasses, but with one key difference.

Whereas today the gaffer’s watch reveals how much time is left in the half, in the future it will show real-time fitness information for his or her eleven players with key performance indicators advising which players are truly making an impact.

Whereas today glasses serve to aid eyesight, in the future they will reveal files of information on tactical formations, opponent information, and live player data to let coaches know whether their initial tactical plan is working or whether it’s time for a change.

Amid some skepticism over use and application, many technology companies believe wearable hardware is the next major area of growth in the industry. Apple recently hired several “senior medical technology executives” to shore up their attempt to move into “bio-sensor” hardware. Under Armour and Nike are also moving further into the wearable tech sector, with the former company looking into software innovations to make best use of the technology.

Most innovations in this area involve health and fitness, so it’s no surprise there has been a great deal of interest in the application of wearable tracking devices in professional sports. In relative terms, football has lagged behind, with athletics paving the way, and sports like basketball, rugby and American football already applying the technology.

Now, football is also starting to look to wearable tech. A few weeks ago, Atletico Madrid’s assistant coach German ‘El Mono’ Burgos syncronised Google Glass with ‘Mediacoach’ – a programme which, according to Metro UK “reveals ‘general’, ‘game building’, ‘defence’ and ‘shots’ statistics, without moving from the comfort of the dugout.” Valencia has followed their lead and plans to continue using the technology in future.

Then there is Adidas MiCoach, with wearable sensors providing fitness data for a specialised software program, which has been around for the last two years. Adidas’ literature on the subject claims that “simply by monitoring his iPad, a coach can now fully understand the physical impact on the body, including work rate, stamina, speed, distance, performance efficiency and, for the first time, power of every player, in every position.”

MiCoach has already partnered with MLS, with the technology used by all teams in the league, though FIFA presently does not allowed wearable technology to be used in matches. This in part reflects the conservatism within the sport toward innovations in technology, as evidenced in FIFA’s careful implementation of goal-line tech.

FIFA—and football’s—caution over new technology is well founded. After all, football’s allure comes in part from its tradition and consistency over the last century and a half. The sport is still twenty two players in kits, shin pads and boots; two nets and a ball. Though artificial surfaces are tolerated, they are rarely if ever prefered over grass.

But there is also the risk of teams buying into flashy tech for its own sake, with little use and applicability in the game. This is apparent with some signs in the market that consumers are more interested in intelligent software than flashy hardware in application in fitness. All the real-time fitness/statistical data in the world is useless unless the user knows what to look for and what to ignore.

That’s because the value isn’t in the technology itself, but how it fits in with a club’s overarching approach. A healthy, long-term vision and playing philosophy will always eschew techy gimmicks and fads for intelligent future planning and data-driven process.

Think about how performance analysts first used video technology to review game incidents. In the hands of the right users, it gave teams a unique advantage in allowing staff to celebrate positive actions and also review mistakes to help prevent them in future. But if the analyst doesn’t know what to look for, or if their recommendations fall on deaf ears, the technology becomes an expensive bauble. I know of at least once club which has paid for expensive pitch-monitoring technology, only to let the results accrue for years without employing an analyst to sift through them for ways to improve performance.

As Pixar president Ed Catmuli relayed in a recent London talk, “while there was much innovation that enabled our work, we did not let the technology overwhelm our real purpose: making a great film.” Technology may help accelerate the work, but in the end the goal is to win on the field of play. That will (hopefully) never change. 


This article by @RWhittall is the eighth post in the ‘Future of Football’ series for @21stClub.

Related posts:

#1 The Future of Football series – how teams will win 10 years from now

#2 In the future: the manager will become obsolete

#3 In the future: football clubs will be more social

#4 In the future: player safety won’t be used for competitive edge

#5 In the future: teams won’t panic in January

#6 In the future: the wisdom of the crowds will decide who gets picked

#7 In the future: there’ll be a succession plan in place

About Richard Whittall

Richard Whittall has created 28 entries.