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Billions of fans around the globe follow, play or watch soccer (a.k.a. football, as the world body FIFA says it in its title). I am one of those fans who will be following the 2014 World Cup in Brazil that is less than a month away. The memories of the many World Cup matches I watched on TV as a teenager are still fresh in my mind. The excitement would keep me awake at night, long after the game was over. I was thrilled at the idea of using the moves I’d learned from the game at practice the next morning.

Back then, analysis of video recordings was key. Similar to how we used to analyze business operations in the 1980s, the data points in sports were small, limited and available only post-game or -practice.

Fast forward to this century, athletes and coaches have more data than they can manage (big data territory): Wearable and sensor-based technology captures every detail of a player’s movement, and real-time feedback improves performance with on-the-spot adjustments. These advancements in technology are no longer a concept; they are reality.

TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, a soccer club in Germany’s premier league (Bundesliga), is taking its training to the next level by capturing and analyzing a wealth of data in real-time. Bernhard Peters, the team’s director of Sports and Youth Training, discussed how the team uses cutting-edge technology, including Google Glass and spatial analysis of player movements for the under-19 team (U19).

Kaan Turnali: How did this idea of using technology to understand player performance come about?

Bernhard Peters: TSG 1899 Hoffenheim is an innovative and forward-thinking soccer club. We want to play beautiful, confident and spirited soccer while staying true to our roots. We are keen to promote young players from our youth program, which stresses innovation and long-term development. And we believe technology can play an important role. We started a pilot project with SAP, Fraunhofer Institute and Crytek to capture different data points to measure and analyze the performance of players under age 19.

Soccer may seem simple on the surface, but it is actually a very complex game with technical, tactical, physical and psychological aspects. We want to capture as much data as possible for all of these areas so we can analyze and optimize our training and development programs. Moreover, we want to give our coaches the ability to look at different areas to study individual players, but also combine these data sets to consider collective results. Over time, we can begin to look at trends and compare our findings against different measurements to give us a competitive advantage to shape our players’ development.

KT: How does the technology work?

BP: There are several technologies involved. First, players and balls are fitted with sensors. This allows geo data to be captured from player and ball movements. Additional sensors on the field help to capture every move that each player makes. Antennas on the training field transmit sensor data live to the in memory technology powered by SAP HANA. Using spatial data, HANA allows real-time measurement of nearly all aspects of player performance. The Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS provides RedFIR wireless tracking technology, while the video game company Crytek’s CryEngine visualizes player data in 3D.

We can then access this data different ways. In our offices, we can analyze the results on the big screen and look at film and data side by side before or after practice. During practice, the coaches may use mobile technology, such as an iPad or Google glass to analyze real-time data.

KT: How do you leverage data to improve your player performance?

BP: The coaching staff can look at various data sources, filtering against different criteria to get answers in real time. This is important because based on their analysis they can improve their training regimen and experiment with new ideas without waiting for the next practice.

For example, our U19 head coach, Julian Nagelsmann, can explore questions, such as how long does a player keep the ball or where does he start dribbling? We can analyze the sensor-based data for tactical improvements during the actual practice. Julian can look up individual performance data of players and provide real-time feedback. For example, he can show a player on the iPad why he wasn’t able to succeed in gaining the upper hand with limited space during a particular play. Moreover, he could demonstrate this with 3D animation on the tablet right on the field.

On the other hand, our U19 athletic coach, Kai Kraft, can study measurements about our players’ physical performance, such as velocity. Additional technologies, such as Google glass, allow us to check the precise speed of the individual players as they move around the field. The data collected through this method helps us bring in objective measurements that can validate our subjective analysis of our players’ performance and potential. Moreover, we can react and adjust from one training session to another to individually address any specific training element of any given player. As a result, we believe that we can considerably optimize our training and improve our players’ development.

Stay tuned for the next installment of the Data Innovators in Sports and Entertainment series.

Connect with me on Twitter (@KaanTurnali), LinkedIn and

Data Innovators in Sports and Entertainment Series:

Overview | SyncStrength | TSG 1899 Hoffenheim | Postano | Sqor, Inc.  | Fan Appz | Phizzle | Uplause