Internet of Sports: How Seattle Sounders Track Performance
The US soccer powerhouse uses wearable devices and data visualization to analyze the fitness levels of stars like Clint Dempsey.
Watching the 2014 World Cup this summer, weren't you a little in awe of how these guys ran non-stop for 90 minutes or more?
Of course they train hard for it, but more and more these days that training is a data-driven process steeped in technology. The coach who knows his team's fitness data may just have an edge.
Major league soccer frontrunner the Seattle Sounders FC have, like other pro teams in the NBA, NFL, and NHL, turned to using wearable devices and data visualization software to monitor player fitness and reduce injury risk.
Does technology explain why the Sounders have the best record in the MLS this year? Well, having Clint Dempsey on the roster might have something to do with it, too, but the technology does have a direct impact on how the World Cup star and his teammates train.
Before pre-season training this year, Sounders sports science and performance manager David Tenney and data analyst Ravi Ramineni took a hard look at fitness data from previous pre-seasons that they'd captured using wearable devices but hadn't analyzed as deeply as they should.
During every practice, Sounders players wear snug vests under their jerseys containing fitness-tracking wearables.
"We were able to see a correlation between distance and velocity training and injury," says Tenney. "We redesigned the pre-season around that data. There were thresholds we wouldn't cross with high-speed training because we know from the data that it can cause hamstring injuries."
Finding the sweet spot During practices, Sounders players wear a tight-fitting vest under their practice jerseys containing two wearables: a device called the MiniMax S4 from Australian company Catapult Sports is attached in the back (between the shoulder blades), and a Polar heart rate monitor sits in the front.
The Catapult MiniMax S4.
The MiniMax S4 combines GPS connectivity and an accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer to track a player's velocity, body mechanics, distance, times, impact, and acceleration and deceleration rates (Catapult's customers also include the New York Giants, San Antonio Spurs, and Philadelphia Flyers, to name a few).
Tenney and Ramineni then download the data from both devices, storing it in a SQL server database and using Tableau data visualization software as the front end. With Tableau visual dashboards they can see the data and create their own metrics that they hand off to coaches. Coaches themselves are not mining data; they just see fitness category scores for each player.
The goal is to find what Tenney calls the sweet spot: the area where a player's training is enough to increase fitness but not so much that they risk injury.
"The Catapult device generates 370 columns of data," says Tenney. "It's up to us to hone that data using Tableau. The coaches don't want to look at
Shane O'Neill is Managing Editor for InformationWeek. Prior to joining InformationWeek, he served in various roles at CIO.com, most notably as assistant managing editor and senior writer covering Microsoft. He has also been an editor and writer at eWeek and TechTarget. ... View Full Bio
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