Mental medicals and light mosaics – football’s technological revolution


Why do England choke in penalty shootouts? There’s been no way of knowing…until now.

Technology is being developed to measure players’ emotional and mental responses to certain on-field situations. It’s one of many innovative projects in the pipeline that could transform football.

As CEO of the Sports Technology Awards – Rebecca Hopkins – explains, the tide of technology will be impossible to stop: “It is huge. Every single touch point of sport is now being influenced by it.

“Developments like goal-line technology have made the results of games far more accurate. Equally if you look at the nature of sports fans, they love data. The line between true sports fan and geek is quite a thin one.”

So without further ado…

Hate the commentator? Choose another

Spalk (Sport-talk – it’s clever) is a New Zealand-based app offering anybody the chance to commentate on a match they are watching. The result is dozens of people commentating on every match, albeit with varying degrees of expertise.

Other users who are watching the same match can select which commentator they want.

Founder Michael Prendergast tells talkSPORT how the app was born…

“We were sitting there watching some rugby union and thought ‘this commentator is not that hot’. So we decided to do our own commentary. Eventually we had an audience of thousands of people.”

The app also allows users to film and commentate at the same time, meaning you can put your own Sunday League match on air – although Spalk makes a point of saying “get permission first!”

Spalk works over the internet so is not currently available through satellite TV. However, it is in contact with Sky and BT Sport with a view to changing this soon.

Michael’s dream is to have Spalk commentators available on the red-button for the Champions League final.

It is also a potential route into professional sports commentary for the armchair fan.

Michael added: “Every Spalk commentator has a profile where all of their commentary is archived for them to play back.”

Psychometrics

It is way more interesting than it sounds.

Psychometrics can be used to judge whether a particular player stays calm under pressure or whether they would choke if they had to take a penalty.

Working in a similar way to a personality test, it analyses a person’s emotional and mental traits as well as their current state of mind.

Britain’s former Olympic 400m sprinter Derek Redmond now works in psychometrics for Thomas International. He believes we are “18 months or two years” away from seeing it employed by clubs on matchdays.

“We are looking at technology where a player can be walking into the changing room and through some kind of scan, whether it’s retinal, facial or another sort of quick assessment, a dashboard could flag up that they need to see the sports psychologist… before they go out on the pitch and make a wrong decision that could result in losing the game.”

Even more significantly, psychometrics could be used by clubs to decide whether to sign a player in the first place by carrying out a ‘mental medical’.

Redmond explains: “You could be taking a young player from Spain and bringing him over to England. How is he going to fit in to that environment socially?” 

Questions about a player’s ability to handle a substantial wage rise could also be dispelled through psychometrics.

Redmond says all this could save clubs and players a lot of heartache (and money).

Mario Balotelli is arguably a fantastic player. We know he is a good footballer and he passes all the physicals. But for some reason he finds it difficult to integrate. We can help clubs make a more informed decision before they sign on the dotted line.”

No Wi-Fi, no problem!

It is the bane of a fan’s life. You sit down in your seat at the stadium and 4G becomes a pipe dream. 

If the venue’s Wi-Fi isn’t up to scratch you are on a hiding to nothing even checking half time scores.

Fanpictor have developed a solution. Using high-frequency sound waves generated by a stadium’s speaker system, information can be sent to phones around the ground.

Chris Cheetham from Fanpictor explains: “That information can be anything from notifications informing fans about something or it can be used to create experiences like a mobile light show.”

What he means is the traditional crowd mosaic but generated by the light of smartphones instead. 

Fanpictor was founded five years ago and has already worked with the NFL, NHL and football’s pre-season International Champions Cup.

The firm’s ambition is to expand within European football, particularly as many clubs still play in old stadiums with poor internet infrastructure.

A very revealing t-shirt

A t-shirt has been developed that measures heart rate, g-force and acceleration as it is worn.

The company behind it, Vexatec, wants to bring it out for the masses but in the meantime coaches and physios at elite level are starting to use it in training.

Vexatec board member Roland Bischof tells talkSPORT: “The main thing is that it is real-time data. That means we have 50 measurements per minute. And if the coach, for example, is in another country, they can see exactly what the athlete is doing.”

The t-shirt, which does not yet have a name, can reveal which in-play scenarios cause a player to get nervous, such as a striker going through one-on-one with a goalkeeper.

As the data logger is held in the centre of the chest it is not currently possible to incorporate the technology for use in football matches.

However, there are no such problems in motorsport, and Bischof reveals the response from the industry has been incredibly positive.

“The drivers have been crazy about it. They said ‘It is perfect because we know everything about the car but nothing about the driver.'”

Data can demonstrate when a driver gets nervous during a lap and therefore where on track they need to hone their technique.

While many see the increase in data as the death of pure sport, Bischof is adamant it can only help.

“You don’t need a belt anymore, you don’t need a watch – you just put on the shirt.”



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