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

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - BODY MIND -

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

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