We've all got used to seeing those black compression vests on display. You know the ones. You see them when a player whips their sweat-soaked top off after they've scored a last-minute screamer, or at the end of a match.
Managers and coaches want all of the data – player data specifically – whether that's from training sessions leading up to the game or from match day. This data has been helping football clubs at the highest level make sure their players are at the peak of their powers. That data is now starting to filter into the amateur and semi-professional realms where the data is simplified, but it still has the same goal: to improve performances out on the pitch.
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We've heard and written a lot about Catapult's Playertek and Playr systems and StatsSports' Apex player tracking wearable, the devices bringing the data from the pros to the football playing masses. DashTag is another company that believes it has a solution to the problem of bringing meaningful data to aspiring footballers, and it's even taken some inspiration from a football video game to make it happen.
Shorts versus vests
Unlike Catapult and StatSports player tracking systems, DashTag (also known as Dash) takes the form of a small clip-on wearable that's worn on your shorts. There's a simple LED display to let you know when it starts and stops tracking a session or game, and it syncs data wirelessly to a companion app. The $99 wearable is for all levels and football abilities, but the focus is on players aged 13+ up to 19/20 years old. So players that are still very much in that development stage of their career.
The DashTag story started in 2015, and it's taken three years to launch in the US. During that time, it's had to make some big decisions. Like building a player-centric as opposed to a team-centric device. Then there was the challenge of designing the hardware. Berg said it didn't want something you'd put over your favourite Barcelona shirt. So it ruled out a vest option like you get with Catapult and StatSports systems.
"We thought there was this proven concept of wearing a vest," co-founder Dirk Van den Berg told us. "So initially we didn’t think about the clip on the shorts. We had thoughts about shirts where we could put the sensors in with a small patch that you place the sensor in, or a solution similar to PlayerTek. But then we thought about normal players, not the pro/semi pro ones. Some players didn’t feel it was comfortable. We learned along the way that we could make it more easy and simple."
The final design needed to ensure the clip would not budge, and was inspired by the kind of clip you get on a pair of braces to find something secure enough. Apparently there have been no reports of missing DashTags yet, and it can even survive a swirl in the washing machine.
It's all in the running
So what does the DashTag measure? It's all about the sprints according to Van den Berg. "We developed our algorithm based on sprints. So we have low, medium and high intensity sprints. From that we can tally sprints based on speed, distance and duration of those sprints."
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Berg and his team are originally from the Netherlands and have a high profile development partner in the shape of Dutch football giants PSV Eindhoven. By tapping into the club's own sophisticated tracking systems and speaking to its sports analysts, it was able to determine that sprints was the key piece of data it needed to deliver to players and users of its wearable. But the next challenge was delivering that information in a way that made sense to the player wearing this device on their shorts.
"From sprints we can say something about player stamina. So if you cannot maintain high intensity sprints when the match is getting to the end, for instance," he explains. "Over 80% of the World Cup matches this summer were settled in the last 10 minutes. You should have some energy left in the end. We measure distance, sprint distance, total distance. We say something about your intensity level, about the endurance of the player, about power and acceleration that a player has. We can give really insightful information directly to the player."
Passing the player test
The startup carried out testing with a host of teams looking at the design of the clip, whether the interface of the Dash was clear, but it was mainly the stats and how users would relate to them that formed the key part of its testing.
Users didn’t know their speed in metres per second, but did know the metrics from FIFA
"We had the graphs and tables saying this and that, and then we found out that players of 16 or 17 years old had no idea how fast they run," says Van den Berg. "They know the pace of Ronaldo or the km an average player runs in a game. But they had no idea about their own data. We learned that we had to present that information really easily. So we came up with three things.
"First, we have an intensity line to show how intense your session was. So if you do more sprints in a matter of five minutes, the peak of the line is higher. When you stop for half time, the line drops. How to recall that in a match is much easier. Then we have the five stats. One overall, weighted performance index, then one number based on intensity, endurance, power and pace. so we have those five numbers.
"What we also learned is that users didn’t know their speed in metres per second but did know the metrics from FIFA. From 0-99, by saying you know your pace is 80 or 85, then you suddenly know 'I’m doing quite okay' and they can relate to that. The third thing is the minute to minute highlights. So in minute five, you had your longest sprint, by minute 80 you had your longest inactive period. We are telling them what happened in the game."
The DashTag launched in the US earlier in the summer and has been rolling out to clubs in California. It's already been worn by women's teams in the top tier of Dutch football and the team is looking at the potential of being approved by governing bodies in the US and further afield to be used on a wider scale.
Next on the agenda is a return to Europe to bring DashTag to footballers on the other side of the pond. Berg feels there's more to come from wearable tech in sports and that ambitious amateurs have a lot more to look forward to. More importantly, he has designs on what he wants to see happen with DashTag, making the wearable a smarter and a more insightful one to use.
"Measuring data is one thing, having a reference is another thing," he said. "What does the professional do? What does a winger do? What does someone aspiring to go to college to play football have to do in their intensity runs training sessions to make it? By collecting data we have more insights into the average activity of a certain player in a certain position. When we can deliver that, we can make the data valuable."
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