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Skill analytics has proven a tricky and under-explored discipline – Alger, who founded Seattle Sport Sciences in 2001, describes it as an ‘onion problem’ with layer after layer of complexity – but it is one he and his team have worked to overcome to devise a skill analytics platform that can provide consistent, repeatable, match-realistic testing and, therefore, statistically valid data.
When one takes a look at the ISOTechne platform, the most conspicuous component is the ball cannon, the 2Victa ball launcher. The cannon, which is used in conjunction with ISOTechne’s motion sensors and software, enables coaches to measure the efficiency with which players receive and touch the ball to within 100th of a second. The launcher holds 16 balls that can each be served at separate pre-programmed speeds, distances, and trajectories, with any form or lack of spin desired. Ball service is repeatable, reliable and accurate from 10 to 70 mph, up to 75 yards.
Photograph: Cindy Alger
The ball launcher is matched by two components. The first is the ISOTechne Launchpad, a tablet-based software that displays information gathered by the ISOTechne 2Victa Training System; it comes complete with 94 customizable programmable sessions. “Cloud-based statistical analysis of players’ skills creates a unique sports training platform that measures performance trends, identifies weaknesses and tracks the growth and the development of athletes,” says Alger. These measurements are then captured by sensors, which accurately capture the movement of the ball and the players when placed on the playing surface, on posts at waist height, or on a target to be struck by the ball.
“All of that is under computer control, so the ball cannon can be integrated with the platform’s other instruments to ensure the player is moving in a match-realistic way at the time they have to deliver the ball, as well as measuring when the ball arrives at the target location. The system can accommodate up to ten cannons and many thousands of sensors; the system itself is modular and can be scaled to whatever degree is decided.”
Photograph: Cindy Alger
ISOTechne’s cloud-based platform harnesses the latest technology to deliver measurable, objective and in-depth assessment of athletic performance in an unprecedented manner. “The power of this new technology is in the data that is collected, analyzed and stored in the cloud. Armed with precise information, organizations – even those with multiple locations – can compare the various athletes, training methods and even entire sports programs. Data can also be compared against standards as well as trends over time, yielding key insights.” It is also easy to assemble and store. “This is not fixed-installation and does not require a special environment or surface.”
ISOTechne can provide high specification skill analytics in a manner beyond conventional video analysis. “By definition, observations that come from video analysis of a match are not reproducible,” Alger explains. “There are too many variables that surround any one event in order to be able to take another event and compare it in a non-trivial way. It does not scale so that you can assess a player’s performance over time, or player to player, program to program, training method to training method. With ISOTechne you’ll have a lot of data but it will have been gathered in a way that allows you to compare all of these different data points with statistical validity.”
The technical complications encountered by Seattle Sport Sciences were matched by the challenge of collecting and processing the data. Alger continues: “The one thing you most want to avoid is spending a lot of time gathering data that ends up not being useful. You can meet that challenge more efficiently if you can control the player’s movement, the demands made of the player, the physical and cognitive loads placed on a player, and the service of the ball to the player. It’s a little controversial to use instrumentation to do that as opposed to doing it within the game but if you’re serious about acquiring quality data there really is no alternative.”
It’s a little controversial to use instrumentation to do that as opposed to doing it within the game but if you’re serious about acquiring quality data there really is no alternative.
What are some of the ways in which teams use ISOTechne? “It’s like a Rorschach ink blot: whatever the club or individual we talked to feels is their most important problem, that’s what they think it was invented to solve. We’ve had academies from all over the world tell us it ensures consistency across all age groups as they look to identify stars and accelerate their development. We’ve had others look at it and say this is great for recovery training for our first team; some make normative tests when players are healthy and, once injured players have been given the OK to return to training, they do functional testing to make sure they’re ready to take to the field again.”
ISOTechne allows for the granular data collection that informs day to day decisions. “Large clubs may look to their success or the money made on transfers as metrics for progress but we go in at a lower level. What’s working, what isn’t; who are the top performers in training; which training methods work best; did it make a difference to use this alternative facility; are we investing our funds wisely and efficiently? Management, coaches and trainers are able to objectively identify athletes’ strengths and weaknesses and implement enhanced training practices and procedures.”
Seattle Sport Sciences are in continuous discussions with elite clubs across the globe as more and more start to take notice. What are the organization’s aims? “It’s hard for me to describe something as a one-year, three-year, or five-year plan,” replies Alger. “I would hope that ten or 20 years from now people will look back and say this is where it began and this is where the game changed.”
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