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FC Barcelona is one of the pioneering clubs in science applied to sport as shown by its many programmes conducted with the Barça Innovation Hub (BIHUB). One of the clearest has been the WIMU PRO device, developed by RealTrack Systems and which, in partnership with BIHUB, has been perfected by following a joint development strategy between the club and the company. The instrument has already brought many benefits to FC Barcelona athletes.
Pioneers in sports science
It was from 2015 that technology journals began to take an interest in how Data Analytics could transform sport. Specialists agreed on the importance of collecting data and using it in an analysis platform, which began to be done through the combined use of EPTS (electronic performance tracking system), and calculation programs to which the information collected by these devices was transferred. FC Barcelona was one of the pioneering teams in adopting this system, thanks to the initiative of its technical staff, and to the joint development with RealTrack Systems of the WIMU PRO device.
The EPTS that the club now uses for all its sports was first trialled with the basketball reserve team in the 2015/16 season. The following season it was applied to all indoor sports and the co-development programme with the manufacturing company and the involvement of the Barça Innovation Hub officially commenced. This process would culminate in the adoption of the device by the senior football team in the 2017/18 season, replacing the one used until then, and its extension to all professional training sessions at the club.
At first, several EPTS were used, from different manufacturers. The aim was to identify, from all the high performance devices available on the market, which one best suited Barcelona’s needs. But having multiple devices posed a problem, for each has its own language and technology, making it hard to group data and produce useful readings with the most commonly used programs.
After testing them with the senior teams it was concluded that they all had strengths, as well as shortcomings. None were completely adapted to FC Barcelona's sporting, scientific and technical objectives, or to each of its five sports. Instead, just one of the manufacturers needed to be willing to develop its technology in collaboration with the club's staff and the Barça Innovation Hub.
The offer was extremely attractive for developers, as the reference data needed to ensure the accuracy of an EPTS is very difficult to obtain. Such a device needs to be adapted to elite athletes, of which there are very few worldwide, thus generating a very small amount of data that can be used to develop a technology. It is also sensitive information that is not usually disclosed. By working with FC Barcelona, a company would have access to part of this data, and the club would end up with an EPTS system that is perfectly adapted to its requirements and particularities. It was finally decided that, of all the start-ups that expressed an interest, RealTrack Systems, a company from Almeria, Spain, was the one that was best adapted to this challenge due to its technical capacity, and its potential for improvement and development.
A very positive partnership
By accepting the co-development, a partnership began that has not only been an example of perfect symbiosis between a technology company and a sports club, but has also been an example of what can be achieved today in the laboratory for the development of sports science and technology that is BIHUB. The club can now train better, achieve better results in terms of tactical concepts, and it helps with injury prevention. Data from the same training field is organized in the same way as it is unified on a single device, meaning it is of much higher quality than it was at the beginning of the implementation of EPTS. This allows for more optimal tracking of the work done by each player, and fitness coaches are hence more secure in their decision making. This better prepares the human part of the athlete to get the result that the coach wants.
The first year of joint work focused on improvements to the WIMU PRO itself. Every week, the 25 coaches at FC Barcelona met at an in-house workshop to discuss the metrics of the device, its reliability and ease of use. They then generated KPI (Key Performance Indicator) reports for RealTrack, and the company incorporated changes and improvements to the design, and adjusted the technology to produce an optimal result. A specific development was to prepare the built-in ANT+ sensor to record electromyography data, performed with another device. This fine-tuned the EPTS to the maximum, making its measurements more useful for our coaches.
One of the most decisive characteristics for extending the use of WIMU PRO to the five professional sports at FC Barcelona was its hybrid data transmission technology. The dual system that uses GPS and UWB broadband radio frequency minimises errors resulting from data loss, and also allows use of the device only with UWB in indoor situations without satellite coverage.
After the first year of working together, the device became more accurate, and all that was left to do was to perfect the software used to collect and process the metrics. From the outset, RealTrack Systems was willing to share its RAW data with the club. Although it has become more common, manufacturers used to be reluctant to provide such data at the initial stages of EPTS. This is always a problem for the technical team, because there is no universal way to correct the raw signal to minimise errors. Each company uses its own method, and the coaches to not know how the data was processed before it was sent. RealTrack Systems was completely transparent in delivering its RAW data from the beginning.
The Club also has five professional sports sections: football, basketball, handball, futsal and rink hockey. Although as team sports they use common specific information, there are also aspects that EPTS needs to measure specifically for each. All this was taken into account when developing the software for WIMU PRO, and the SVIVO and SPRO applications.
SVIVO is designed for live workload tracking, while training is taking place, and coaches can personalise the set of measures they consider most optimal for each session, and also adapt them to specific situations, such as a player recovering from an injury, or controlling the return to action after a holiday period. It is technically possible to use EPTS during a match. FIFA allows it as long as the referee has no objection and the device is not visible, although FC Barcelona's senior football team does not use it, and the information comes from video recordings instead.
Once the training session is over, SPRO is used to analyse all the information collected by WIMU PRO. By choosing parameters, the user can study each play down to the smallest detail, in order to find out how it came about and what the result was. It also compares, when necessary, data from different sessions to identify patterns, histories, player profiles and their evolution. If an injured player is recovering, electromyography data can be added, as the device allows connection to external devices and the incorporation of this data into subsequent analysis.
One SPRO utility that FC Barcelona coaches do not use is synchronisation between EPTS data and video image, and neither does the club’s data analysis department. This feature displays a stats menu that complements information about the action for TV viewers, meaning that WIMU PRO could become another tool for fan engagement. It is an idea that has yet to fully materialise, but the widespread use of these devices by teams around the world is opening up interesting new possibilities.
Last but not least, WIMU is complemented by a data system in the cloud that allows access by any member of staff to view session histories, generate custom reports, and study trends and patterns from anywhere, and also share their observations with other coaches, consult them, and warn of risks or opportunities.
This story does not end here, and we hope to continue to integrate cooperative ecosystems that are beneficial to the club and its partners' needs.
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