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From FIFA 17 to real-life soccer fields: JOHAN Sports is taming big data to help sports coaches, trainers, and players

Guest post by Jelle Reichert, Founder and CTO of JOHAN Sports.

As the co-founder of JOHAN Sports, I find it easy to get people interested in what I do because JOHAN combines two things that capture everyone’s imagination: space and sports. After four years of testing, we have developed and launched a small sensor with Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS)—which includes all satellite navigation systems from GPS to the European Galileo and Chinese Beidou systems—to track the performance of players in outdoor team sports such as soccer, rugby, and field hockey. The sensor also measures inertial movements and the heart rate of players.

Here, another buzz word comes into play: big data. Together with our in-house sports scientists, we’ve developed analytics modules to interpret the data we receive from the sensor and deliver information on the physical state of players and their progress, as well as risk profiles for injury prevention.

Insights rather than data

And this is where the actual challenge lies. We don’t want to be just another data provider; we want to deliver practical insights. The data we deliver has to be usable for football coaches, physical therapists, and the players themselves. My co-founder Robin and I may be trained as aerospace engineers, but our clients are sports people, not rocket scientists! We don’t want them to drown in data; we want to show them clear goals and practical dials they can turn.

We know coaches and trainers want to know as much as possible about their players, but they simply cannot look at all their players at once during matches and training. And research shows that they don’t always see or remember the important details. So JOHAN provides the ‘digital objectivity goggles.’ You could say we were inspired by the player rating feature in the video game FIFA 17: little player cards that score how fit a player is, how well he can shoot, and how good he is at defense.

Lessons learned from sports analytics data

Right now, we’re working on even more simplified reports that alert coaches as to when they should keep an eye on certain players. We know there’s a very fine line between a player being overloaded or underloaded. A player who underperforms isn’t getting any better, but a player who is overexerted can be injured, which is very expensive for the club.

Another thing we’re learning is what the optimal levels are for each sport and team. Of course, these optimal levels differ individually. Using insights from our dashboards, trainers and physical therapists can adapt the training regime to the fitness of an individual player.

Sometimes, the data also teaches us things that might seem counterintuitive. For instance, many coaches choose to do a long, but easy-going training on the day before a match. Our data, however, shows that an intensive but short session leads to much better match results.

Going for gold

Our most loyal client is the Dutch national women’s hockey team. They took second place during the last Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, which was a pity because they were going for gold. Together, we’ve collected performance data over the last three years, which is very valuable to develop training schedules (to peak during the tournaments) and substitution schemes (to decide who plays when during a game). Hopefully, this will lead to a gold medal at the next Games…

In the coming year, our goal is to grow further internationally and to continue to improve our system by making it real-time. This way, coaches will be able to make better-informed decisions during training or matches. So if you’re a coach or a player in an outdoor team sport, request a free demo to learn more about how JOHAN Sports can help you.