Football has been the most universally appreciated spectator sport on the planet for some time, with World Cup finals commanding audiences of billions. So naturally, when it comes to attempting to put together a winning team, coaches and managers will go to various lengths. Utilising technology is one aspect that is becoming increasingly popular.
For the back room staff to begin improving their players' performances, what they first need to do is understand what they actually do during the course of any 90-minute game. Previously, a lot of the choices concerning strategies and tactics were made in real time. We've all seen images of coaches furiously scribbling into notebooks in their dugouts, analyzing aspects of fraught matches as they unfold. Much of what would then be suggested to players, either at half-time, or at subsequent training sessions, would be down to ‘gut instinct'. However, advancements in technology have allowed science to be applied to the process in ways that even World Cup-winning managers could only have dreamt of.
Many of the stadia of premier league sides throughout the world are fitted with sophisticated cameras. These unnoticed mechanical eyes dutifully record exactly what is going on, tracking every kick of the ball, every cross, every goalkeeping save, every dead-ball situation. Once these images are subsequently pored over, they can provide a wealth of information about how much jogging, sprinting - or just hanging around watching play unfold elsewhere – is carried out by the 22 players on the field.
Some consistent pictures emerge from these camera studies. On average, players cover between 10 and 12 kilometers in a 90-minute encounter. Sprinting make up considerably less time than ‘low intensity' activity, such as jogging, or walking. Nevertheless, the former are disproportionately more important attributes to perfect, because the mark the key points during any game. Frenetic penalty box activity is defined by strikers rushing in to meet crosses, or defenders having to back-track furiously after their own side's attack has broken down and they are facing a counter attack.
Film retrieved from this real-time coverage can also paint a picture of player skill sets, allowing coaching staff to decide whether certain players are being played out of their ideal positions. Or perhaps, where techniques need brushed-up.
Technology is also applied to training sessions. Global positioning systems and heart monitoring apparatus are being increasingly used to maintain healthy team members. The heart rate can reveal how bodies are responding to the bursts of action that occur during games. All this activity helps the coaching staff to gauge if training sessions are perhaps being too demanding for players facing strenuous games in a matter of days. But for everyone involved in running a successful premiership side, from the managerial team, to coaches, to physiotherapists, to behavioural neuroscientists, being able to analyze activity down to the level of players' heartbeats is an example of how technology is working to improve sport.