Can a ‘sports bra’ make me a better Playr?
England’s finest use them, but is the latest training gizmo fit for a Sunday footballer? Tom Ough finds out
Between you and me, I’m not particularly interested in analysing my football data. I already know that I’m lazy and prone to rambling out of position. I don’t need to know the precise breadth and depth of my sloth and incompetence, and if I wanted to I’m sure I could simply ask the friends I play five-a-side with. But if I don’t start paying attention to my data, I may lag even further behind my team-mates.
Maybe you’ve seen the cropped black vests that teams such as Real Madrid, Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City wear in training. They use GPS to monitor their wearers’ speed, movement and positioning, and coaches analyse the data to make sure that their players aren’t slacking off. A company called Catapult makes the vests used by the teams mentioned above, and they’ve just released a version that amateurs, both male and female, can use too.
Behold: the Playr SmartPod, a GPSenabled plastic pebble that slips into a pouch at the back of your Playr SmartVest. I have every confidence that the device will be bought exclusively by flash gits, especially given that it costs £199. Coincidentally, this is the exact sum I would pay NOT to see my data.
Despite my misgivings, I got hold of a Playr kit so that I could try it out in our next game of five-a-side. The first point in its favour is that it is absolutely idiot-proof: you set up an app on your phone, you tell it when you’re next playing, and the pebble thing automatically records the data and sends it over after the game. The first point in its disfavour, at least from the perspective of the out-of-shape men of amateur football, is that the black vest is really more of a sports bra, ensuring that it dramatically accentuates even the gentlest hillock of a man-boob.
I brought it to a Sunday afternoon kickabout at a sports centre in south London. Just wearing it made me change my behaviour, because I was conscious throughout that I was going to be presented with stats on my effort and my movement around the pitch.
The app shows your movement in a positional heat map, which is a diagram of a pitch with hotter colours on the places where you spent the most time. I wanted my heat map to sing a ballad of defensive discipline and attacking incision, so I eschewed our normal comradely rotation around the pitch in favour of sticking to the right flank.
This meant I didn’t have to do a shift in goal, but as it turned out I really could have done with one. Knowing that the app would compare my performance with that of other amateurs and even professionals, I made the cynical decision to sprint further and faster. I was soon forced to reverse that decision thanks to being painfully reminded of my middling fitness. I am usually a clumsy and ineffective player, but now I was a selfish one too, playing a private game whose goals rarely aligned with those of my team-mates. I was Cristiano Ronaldo with all of the egomania and none of the finishing ability. I had become the flash git.
At the end of the game I took the pebble thing out of the vest and synced it with my phone. It considered the data for a minute or so before asking me a series of unbelievably impertinent questions. “Looks like you took that game pretty easy,” it said. “Was that the plan?” And then, scoring my intensity as “low”: “That was gentle for a match day. Was it a friendly?”
The app was slick and served up some useful data. I saw how my performance slumped after the halfway point and how over the course of the game I covered an acceptable 4.48 km. It said I only sprinted a total of 70 metres, an estimate which, at risk of flattering myself, seemed low.
I saw the heat map I’d wanted after using the app’s feature of mapping your pitch onto an aerial photo of your location. I saw that my top speed was 79 per cent of that of a professional. I saw that my “Power” score, whatever that is, was 13, precisely a quarter of the average professional score. And having begun to understand just how far my fitness is from that of a professional, I was confronted with a remedy: more sprint training.
Where the technology is useful is in giving you those breakdowns by minute, and by letting you compare your performance with previous sessions and to sessions undergone by other players. The heat map is far less useful than it would be if it could tell where I’d touched the ball.
I’d conclude that this bit of kit is for serious, organised football rather than your average Sunday League clogger, but maybe I’m still sore at being lambasted for my lack of fitness. Don’t hate the Playr, hate the game.
Playr SmartPod and SmartVest,
VESTED INTERESTTom Ough straps on a new device that feeds back mountains of data to your phone and offers a frank assessment of your pitch performance