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The State of Soccer Tech – Darren Burgess, Arsenal


The State of Soccer Technology and Innovation – Darren Burgess, Arsenal

(Logos courtesy of SportTechie and N3XT Sports, photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images)

During the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, SportTechie and N3XT Sports are surveying key soccer experts around the world to understand the current state of soccer technology and innovation. (More soccer technology viewpoints.)

Darren Burgess is the director of high performance at Arsenal. He previously worked as the high performance manager of Australian rules football club Port Adelaide, until being hand-picked last summer by then-Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Burgess is responsible for the north London soccer club’s medical and fitness programs. Before Port Adelaide, he spent time as the head of fitness and performance at Liverpool and worked with the Australian national soccer team in the lead up to the 2010 World Cup. After Burgess moved to Arsenal, Port Adelaide and his new team launched a partnership focusing on sports science.

Arsenal is one of the most powerful soccer clubs in the world. In 2017, Forbes ranked it as the sixth most valuable soccer team, worth $1.93 billion, and it has more than 60 million followers across its social platforms. Arsenal plays in the English Premier League, and has won the top division of English soccer 13 times. The Gunners’ have also won the FA Cup a record 13 times, mostly recently in the 2016/17 season.

Burgess believes that optical player tracking systems, and the data that those generate, represent the most significant technological advancement in soccer. “This technology not only enables us to quantify players’ physical movements but also evaluate the technical/tactical abilities of both players and teams,” he explained.

According to Burgess, there are two main obstacles to the integration of technologies in soccer: personal experience and cost. “Often these technologies challenge the natural instinct of experienced practitioners. This can lead to distrust of the technology.” Coaches and physical performance specialists might have developed their own tried and trusted workflows during careers in the soccer industry, and might be unwilling to try out something unknown.

“Additionally,” Burgess noted, “the cost of the technology can be prohibitive to some lower league teams.”

As a soccer giant, though, Arsenal does have the resources to implement cutting-edge technology. “At Arsenal every session is monitored using STATSports GPS tracking technology, Firstbeat heart rate technology, and elevated cameras or drones,” Burgess explained. GPS, cameras, and drones can quantify and qualify a player’s movement around the field, and tracking heart rate allows trainers to understand how hard an athlete is working. “All sessions are evaluated for external and internal load as well as the tactical success of each drill,” Burgess added.

The two main areas where technology will most impact soccer in the future, according to Burgess, will be the 3D reconstruction of games using data from tracking, and the use of wearables. “Tactically, the ability for the players/coaches to ‘re-live’ the game may provide great advancements in decision making and coaching techniques. And wearable biometrics will enable low impact evaluation of not only player movements but also metrics such as heart rate variability, sweat rate and composition, core temperature, respiration rate and content, and general stress levels of the players.”



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