Use of Technology and Analytics in Player Workload

Use of Technology and Analytics in Player Workload

2022-11  Since the lead-up to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar has been thrust into the spotlight, the tournament has been surrounded by more than its fair share of controversy and criticism. However, when focusing purely on the sporting and on-field aspects of this World Cup, one of the biggest storylines heading into the tournament, which has continued throughout, is the high number of big-name star players who have been getting injured and ruled out to play in the tournament. These star players were expected to play key roles in many of their nation’s efforts to have a chance to progress deep into the tournament. 

Impact of 2022 Schedule

But what has caused this abnormally high number of player injuries? With the tournament having to be moved from Qatar’s summer to its winter, the World Cup now falls right in the middle of the league season. These leagues, therefore, had to condense their schedules to accommodate the World Cup. This resulted in players and teams having to play multiple games per week in the month leading up to the tournament. On top of this, there was also a significant reduction in the preparation and recovery time compared to usual between the end of league games and the beginning of the World Cup. This meant that as these players were putting more stress on their bodies playing multiple games a week, they also had less time to rest or even recover from any injuries they may have picked up.

For most players, it is a dream to play for and represent their country in a World Cup. Taking years of training and playing at the top level to be chosen as one of the top 26 players to represent your country. This condensed schedule and heightened injury risk threatened this dream for a lot of players. For some players like Varane and Richarlison you saw them get very emotional when an injury shortly before the Tournament put their spot in doubt. These two players were lucky, being able to get healthy in time to represent their country. Players such as Germany’s Werner weren’t as lucky. Werner picked up an injury just weeks before the World Cup and was ruled out. With Germany’s early exit from the tournament, a proper out-and-out forward like Werner could have gone a long way to help the nation progress further. Even Ballon d'Or runner-up, Senegal’s Mane, one of the best players in the world, was ruled out in the last weeks leading up to the tournament. With Senegal already performing so well, one can only wonder how things could have gone with their star man available.

One of the favourites, France who already had a number of high-profile key players such as Kante and Pogba ruled out before the start of the tournament, went on to lose two of their best players in the training sessions leading up to their first game. Ballon d'Or winner Benzema and young star Nkunku both injured themselves in training, showing the toll all the condensed schedule and the travel had taken on their bodies. These are just some of the star players that had been ruled out of the World Cup in the weeks leading up to the tournament. There have been many more and even more injured throughout the tournament itself. It is clear the effect this higher workload through the condensed schedule and the shorter rest times has had.  

Assessment of Player Workload

This increased workload is not new for professional players. Over the last few years players have been exposed to this more and more. Players who represent teams in the major leagues are often subjected to this higher workload having to regularly play league games as well as cup competitions during the same week. Fifpro the representative organisation for professional footballers worldwide has also taken note of this and in 2021 decided to create a platform to help monitor the workload of professional players [1]. This platform was created with the goal of addressing the growing need for aggregated player workload data, delivering information about playing time, travel and recovery periods [2]. Just before the World Cup Fifpro released a report focused on the World Cup and the effects the changes to this tournament could have on players. Factors such as the dangerously low preparation and recovery time compared to standard tournaments were extensively covered as well as the extreme imbalance of calendar scheduling between the different regions [3]. 

Use of Technology to Enhance Assessment

Fifpro player workload platform is a step in the right direction to help find a solution for teams and leagues to more effectively protect their players and reduce injuries. The platform outlines what they call the critical zone. Looking at the damaging effect of too many back-to-back games without adequate rest, Fifpro defines the term ‘critical zone’ to identify matches that have the potential to put too much strain on players. Fifpro has found that the percentage of games players are playing in this critical zone is steadily increasing [4]. Within Fifpro’s platform currently 265 professional male footballers make up the Player Workload Monitoring [4]. Although this is a decent sample size consisting of a wide range of nationalities, confederations and workload demands, using aggregated data derived from the FIFA-certified Electronic Performance and Tracking Systems (EPTS) could significantly strengthen the platform providing tangible benefits and most importantly additional scalability. 

Load management needs to be at the forefront of this discussion. Leveraging wearable and optical-based technologies to assist in load management is not a new practice in injury prevention.  In American Football, for example, the National Football League places an increased value on using sportstech to help improve player safety. In particular when it comes to reducing head injuries which has been a major issue plaguing the league, advancements have been made using technology and analytics. For further information about how the NFL achieved this go to the previous article by Chemneera ‘What is the role of sportstech in player safety in American Football’.

Conclusion and Additional Information

Crucial for these football governing bodies is to look at ways to reduce the percentage of games players take part in within this critical zone rather than it continuing to increase. Within Fifpro’s platform, they created a case study looking into safeguards to prevent excessive multiple-match exposure. They found that by applying safeguards after a set of matches in the critical zone, the player’s workload would be reduced significantly [4].

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