“The more you move towards the first team, the more training components we try to scientifically substantiate directly from the match”

Feyenoord has been using the Inmotio LPM-system at the first team since 2015. In February 2020, they also temporarily installed Inmotio’s mobile LPM system to run a number of test measurements at the leading Feyenoord Academy at Varkenoord.

We will interview Rick Cost, performance and innovation manager at Feyenoord, and Sven Verstappen, active as a sports scientist at the Feyenoord Academy and PhD candidate in the 2019-2020 season, about their vision regarding performance development and how accurate tracking systems can contribute to the achievement of their objectives.

The interview

What is your vision on Performance and monitoring performance within a youth academy?

Cost: “We try to relate everything to the actual match, because that is the starting point. So, with all tests, periodizing or monitoring: it must be related to the match. At the U16-18’s, as with the first team, the match is the most important moment of the week. The game is less central in the Under 8 to Under 15’s, but you still think from what you need in a football match. For example, with all-round motor development training, we provide donor sports. These sports support actions that you need in a football match. Take trampoline jumping, for example. For the Under 13 to Under 15’s, the practice of this donor sport can improve spatial orientation, which in turn indirectly contributes to the better continuation of an action after falling. The more you move towards the first team, the more training components we try to scientifically substantiate directly from the match; in the end, that is what is expected in professional football.”

© Tom Bode / Feyenoord Media

At the First Team of Feyenoord, the Inmotio LPM-system has been used for quite some time now in order to monitor the physical load and to, on that basis, periodize. How does such a monitoring system fit into your vision within the youth academy?

Cost: “It fits very well with the ‘train-the-game’ idea: you can only train the game if you know what it means. For example, if we play a 6v6 in the Under 16, we would like to know if we meet at least the benchmark of match intensity on certain distinguishing criteria; for example, the number of sprint meters or the number of accelerations and decelerations, taken together as football actions, per minute. You cannot observe this objectively with the naked eye only, certainly not for all players at the same time. If we reach that benchmark, we can plan an additional step next time.

Eventually, with the data we can periodize better. This can be done conditionally, i.e. the heart rate load, as well as on external load; i.e. the actions and movements that a player performs. With a 9vs9 you ensure overload at high intensity distance, whereas with a 4v4 on a smaller field, the emphasis is more on the number of passes and football actions.”

How did the periodic training load process go before you had these types of tracking systems at your disposal?

Cost: “Around the year 2000, in hockey, where I started, we mainly worked with heart, specifically focused on the number of minutes above a threshold, but we had no information about the external load. Years later, we were able to measure the external load of indoor hockey in a sports hall with LPM at Papendal, but that had no relationship with field hockey whatsoever. Later on, we measured with LPM at Vitesse, but the grass was too high for hockey there, so we could only do standard running actions. Soil far from the ideal situation. In London (2012) we first worked with GPS, where we mainly looked at the total volume. Four years later, in Rio, Brazil, an improved software interface allowed us to divide the training into smaller pieces, but we mainly looked at distance in speed zones.

At the youth academy we now use both heart rate as well as external loads; we can divide training blocks and plot the games against the match, but for the time being it is mainly manual work in Excel. For this reason, we still mainly use the volume of training and exercises, with which we calculate the acute and chronic load, but we actually do not focus enough on the intensity of exercises.

The step we now take with Inmotio, is that we also automate the processing and analysis of the data, in order to quickly deliver the reports to the right person. With the help of Inmotio, we are now getting closer to the session reports we want, in which we can also better indicate the value of exercises in relation to the competition.”

“The step we now take with Inmotio, is that we also automate the processing and analysis of the data, in order to quickly deliver the reports to the right person.”

What was the main reason for installing Inmotio’s test LPM-system?

Cost: “The reason was twofold; on the one hand, we are investigating whether it is possible to install an LPM-system at the Academy. This is because then, we can see whether the standards of the first team, where the LPM-system has been used for some time now, are met by the upcoming talents or at least come close. When you have one system, the data is also more reliable, because there is often a big difference between systems.”

Verstappen: “We would like to experience the operational process ourselves before a possible system switchover. We had a good experience. I worked pleasantly with the LPM system. I can easily turn it on and off from an office. Handing out the transponders is the only thing that needs to be taken care of in terms of action, but we give the players the responsibility themselves, so that it takes us little time. The biggest gain is the flow in the reporting. With just a few actions we can now upload the data, after which the standard reports are created, as defined by ourselves.”

Cost: “If this most ideal situation of one type of LPM system for first team and academy is not feasible, then with this test system we can at least calculate what the difference is between the Inmotio LPM system and the two GPS systems that we now use at the Academy. Then, we can make a conversion model, so that we know what the differences are, and correct for it. So that you know that the sprint meter that you measure in one system is also a sprint meter in the other system. Inmotio LPM is currently the gold standard in my opinion, so you have to compare everything against it.”

Verstappen: “In order to do so, we are currently conducting a validation study. For the external load we use a number of parameters, including total distance, sprint meters, maximum speed, distance in speed zones and the number of accelerations and deceleration above 2 and 3 meters per square second. Because we can measure and feedback these parameters with any system. We will do a shuttle run and games like 4v4, 7v7 and 11v11, all including goalkeepers.”

© Tom Bode / Feyenoord Media

And then? If you know exactly what those differences are?

Verstappen: “Then you can compare the data in a better way for both practice and research. For example, I am currently conducting a longitudinal study about risk factors for injuries for older youth aged 16-21. I use the data from these systems as a measure of the external load. In the study, we then try to relate injury incidence to, among other things, this external load. Other measures that provide insight into the load capacity, such as sleep and recovery, are also measured. Those we measure with questionnaires.”

At the moment, what is the biggest benefit of these kinds of tracking systems?

Cost: “There are still a lot of assumptions made in the football world, both on and off the pitch. On the pitch, for example, assumptions are made based on feelings about whether a session was intensive or not; there is still much to be gained here in communication with trainers.”

Verstappen: “It is difficult if everyone wants their own preferences and looks at other things. What the coach sees is not what the sports scientist sees. That is why mutual communication is very important. It is essential to explain well on both sides what you want to see and why you look at it in that way.”

Cost: “For example by explaining why certain data can help to objectively measure, for example, the intensity of a training. I personally just really want to know exactly what we need to do in order to achieve a pre-formulated objective. These systems can help with that.”

And what about the assumptions made off the pitch?

Cost: “There are indeed still many assumptions made off the pitch. Think of the definition of intensity, how do you determine that? And are the measured accelerations reliable? This is reflected by every measurement system, but how is it measured and where is the proof that this is actually true?

As a staff member of performance, we want to provide guidelines with figures, but if the figures are not correct, it will be difficult. You have tracking systems that are very user-friendly, but where the quality of the data is very questionable. It will take too much to just accept bad quality but linking a user-friendly system together with high-quality data is the absolute key.”

“As a staff member of performance, we want to provide guidelines with figures, but if the figures are not correct, it will be difficult.”

What are your biggest challenges at the moment and what developments do you see in the near future?

Cost: “For the sake of reliability, you would prefer to have one tracking system that you can use anywhere; to start with, the same system for all training sessions that are monitored within the club. Because we do not have infinite financial resources, the chosen system must also optimize the workflow. Our current workflow still takes too much time. That is something we hope to achieve with Inmotio: automating the current manual work. Top sport in general can still make a big step by automating IT processes and data flows.”

Verstappen: “At the moment, human movement scientists in sports organizations are often more executive than spending time analyzing data. Consider, for example, the manual processing of data in Excel, while the strength and added value of a sports scientist should actually be in the analysis, feedback and advice.”

Cost: “In the field of performance, we, including myself, also stick too much to human movement sciences, while I think we should be more open to integration with other fields. Think, for example, about fields like Computer Science, where there are many opportunities for more advanced data processing and data analysis. We still work with easy-to-understand data, while Artificial Intelligence already offers so much possibilities. We must link people with qualities in that field to the current staff, so that we can efficiently process the data flows into a bite-sized pieces of information that we offer the trainer, so that he can translate his “art” on the field even better.

If I see how easily we can create a structure within 30 days while using Inmotio that is based on an underlying database, in which we can give the trainers a certain clarity about the intensity and volume, this is a huge effective step towards the right direction. That is why we must use financial resources wisely, because new technology may be an investment, but it also gives us a lot; and with that we can grow to a higher level.”