“I think the first challenge that coaches face is that they only have two eyes and a finite memory.” The Leaders Performance Institute is talking to Dr Erez Morag, the Chief Innovation Officer at PlayerMaker, a sports technology startup that has over the past two years created a footwear-based sensor platform to deliver integrated physical, technical and tactical data that improves coaching standards, training effectiveness, and ultimately, he says, produces better players.
“We are providing coaches with the tools to become better coaches through additional ‘eyes’ and greater memory.” PlayerMaker is looking to provide these eyes and memory assistance through its motion sensor technology and cloud-based platform. “The suite provides instant performance intelligence that, enables immediate decision-making and assessment of training session effectiveness.”
Dr Morag is a sports scientist who during a 13-year tenure at Nike collaborated with the coaches and players of a number of the world’s best football teams, including FC Barcelona, Juventus FC and the Brazil men’s national team. He also co-contributed 25 footwear patents for the sportswear giant.
Today, the topic is PlayerMaker and Dr Morag has been joined by the startup’s Chief Operating Officer Yuval Odem, who proceeds to give the Leaders Performance Institute a preview on his iPad. “Your homepage is like a newsfeed,” he comments once we have logged on. “From our position, the clean, unfussy graphics are easy to interpret and, within moments, a coach, or indeed any academy or staff member, could call up head-to-head comparisons on players or summon the progress chart of a particular player in terms of such aspects as number of touches, pass completion, time on the ball or distance covered and many other significant KPIs.”
“We’re working on the next generation football technology by making an effective, accurate and affordable platform,” says Dr Morag, who observes this demonstration from across the table. “Every coach at any level of the game will be able to benefit from similar information such as the interaction between players and the ball, their involvement, their tempo, how quickly they receive and release the ball, how accurate they are, their pass completion percentage; then moving into tactical elements like how quickly a team regains possession of the ball, the passing matrix of the team. This all stems from our immediate and accurate technology, through PlayerMaker.”
Every coach at any level of the game will be able to benefit from similar information such as the interaction between players and the ball, their involvement, their tempo, how quickly they receive and release the ball, how accurate they are, their pass completion percentage; then moving into tactical elements like how quickly a team regains possession of the ball, the passing matrix of the team.
In developing a tool for the coach, The PlayerMaker platform development faced two key challenges. “The first challenge was to identify the most critical elements and data points most relevant for coaches that affect their decision-making on how they plan their next session,” Dr Morag explains. “The second challenge was to work to ensure a very detailed R&D process of getting that critical accuracy. We took time and engaged with our beta users, academy and senior player development coaches at some of Europe’s top clubs; we also took the technology, addressed the insights we’ve gained from within the game, then combined that with evidence from science to generate the data most relevant for coaches. Most excitingly, in working with teams and coaches, we were able to create and generate information that we, initially, didn’t think we could.”
The story is taken up by Odem: “Tactical KPIs were not in our minds – that was a breakthrough from someone sitting in a room and asking why we wouldn’t connect the sensors more usefully in that regard. ” This breakthrough, he says, came about because PlayerMaker aligns with the training, playing and coaching philosophies of a user partner. “We work with a club to design a user-interface that will benefit them the most. Each academy has its own coaching philosophy and it’s a significant part of their daily routine – we don’t want them to change their philosophy, drills, or training sessions. Philosophies can differ, so it’s about working with the clubs to make the product most valuable for them.”
PlayerMaker’s growing list of partner academies have access to account managers in each country of operation and coaches will be provided with direct access. “We are designing the ultimate user experience, meeting at least every two weeks; the coaches and staff members provide their feedback on current features, and we take it in consideration for our next features or innovations and seek their opinion not only on what they’ve already experienced but also on the next feature on deck in order to deliver the most innovative and relevant product.”
Odem explains that feedback or user experience differs from club to club, depending on their philosophy. “We see different PM usage methodologies in the academies; some use it as a direct influence on the player by exposing them to the data and delivering instant feedback to the player. It’s generated awareness, which generates immediate improvement. Other clubs use the huge database that the system generates to generate improve coaching and to evaluate players’ skills over time.”
Plug ‘n’ Play solution
PlayerMaker is a plug ‘n’ play solution that is extremely easy to deploy, learn and operate. Earlier stages of effort have been invested in converting highly complex data into an elegantly simple solution. Utilising footwear sensors, PlayerMaker requires no infrastructure or installation. With intuitive and simple interfaces, it has a quick learning curve. Designed with the coach in mind, PlayerMaker is easily operated by the academy’s coaches and other staff members
Odem also explains that PlayerMaker can assist with longer-term player evaluation. “The elite clubs work in syllabuses of six weeks. Then they stop and debrief player’s performance and define targets for the next six weeks. PlayerMaker offers a tool to review those six weeks to allow coaches to generate more relevant individual targets, and to decide if players need more individual sessions in order to improve certain skillsets. In addition, a triallist, can be compared to other players in the same age group or position. It allows coaches and professional teams to track, monitor, and build a huge database that enables them to make decisions on different levels.”
Beyond player-coach communication, PlayerMaker can also assess the effectiveness of a coaching session and the development of coaches as much as players. Odem continues: “If you consider it from the point of view of an academy manager, head of coaching, head of performance, you can also see how they can use PlayerMaker for coach development because we can measure training session effectiveness and other aspects where the coach can improve.”
He is, however, quick to emphasise that it is still early days: “It’s important to say that there are clubs that are only at the stage of collecting data. They can use it for daily routines but once they have enough data they can make broader coaching decisions. For all that, they already see the value.”
Dr Morag adds: “In the next few years I want to see PlayerMaker develop as a common tool for academies and amateur users alike. It’ll allow coaches to be better and standardise players’ assessment based on objective information. I envision it as a platform on which we can build additional tools to help coaches become better, especially in the area of talent development.”