The integration of artificial intelligence (AI) in football has the potential to revolutionise the way teams strategise, train, and compete.
In a recent research group conducted with members of the League Managers Association (LMA), Zone7 explored the role of AI in enhancing managers decision-making capabilities and optimising workload exposure during training sessions.
This article shares some of the valuable insights from the workshop and highlights how Zone7’s suite of AI tools can effectively address the needs and challenges of today’s football managers.
Managerial Time Constraints
One of the most common themes we heard in the workshop was that the demanding nature of a manager’s role leaves them with limited time, particularly in the crucial hours leading up to training sessions. The need for quick, up-to-date, accurate and easily understood information is paramount to ensure that well-informed decisions and seamless training plans can be delivered.
Every minute saved in football related data processing directly translates into more time available for managers to discuss players’ tactical, technical, psychological and physical status with colleagues, and strategically think, plan and prepare for training and matches.
“I didn’t realise how quickly [the information from Zone7] can come back for you… the efficiency, the workflows will be so much better for everyone.”
“In the morning, [for example,] you want information quickly as you’ve now got to finalise numbers [of players] and what you’re going to do in terms of your training.”
Zone7’s technology turns the many hours that a sports scientist takes to crunch through GPS and other data into near real-time updates. Typically the AI will return comprehensive new insights within 30 minutes of a training session ending, which for many managers, is a game-changer – both when arriving in the morning, as well as when preparing for the next day.
As one explained, “It would be pretty amazing to walk in after training, and to sit down and have lunch with the analyst, or the sports scientist at 1.30pm, rather than them missing lunch and having [it ready] at five o’clock because they have their head in their computer crunching data [all afternoon].”
This reduced data processing time can translate into a substantial advantage, granting the manager the ability to focus on planning and refining their training sessions much earlier than when they would otherwise have been able to do so.
Understanding the Managerial Environment
The second point we heard was that managers often found themselves overloaded with data and grappling with the challenge of turning this data into something useful.
“I believe more information of what you want individually is better, but you can get swamped. If you come in and give me five pages of data, I’ll be perfectly honest, I’m not going to read it. And I’ll tell you I won’t read it, because I don’t have time to go through all that.”
Zone7’s AI tools provide the necessary headlines for a manager and if necessary enable any user to identify the underpinning trends and patterns related to players physical workload in training and games, without the heavy lifting and time consuming manual work to sift through huge raw data sets.
In essence, AI can give a manager new powers: the potential to have a tool that acts as a super efficient filter, distilling complex data into information that can be more readily understood and used to help keep players training and playing as much as possible.
For instance, Zone7 quickly identifies the specific physical metrics that are most relevant to each manager’s unique football methodology. This simplifies the analysis and interpretation of what can otherwise be complex data and provides insights that a manager and his staff can use to maximise players physical performance potential.
“I think [using Zone7] would give you a conversation piece as a group. It gives you some visual understanding of what [the physio/doctor/sport scientist is] talking about. Normally it’s someone just speaking at you and you don’t see anything, they just tell you a player needs to train more or less.”
The third theme we heard was that most managers in the room were open to using AI, but trust in AI software is not an instantaneous achievement; it’s a gradual process.
“[To build trust] takes time. But you’re going to have to get some quick wins as well, so you’re going to have to show a benefit for bringing it in straight away.”
Ultimately, football managers and their staff’s trust in AI hinges on three fundamental factors: quality, transparency and customisation.
For AI tools to provide accurate and relevant insights, the input data like GPS must be comprehensive, accurate, and up-to-date. Managers need assurance that the data collected and analysed by AI systems are reliable and Zone7 ensures this.
Having this transparency bolsters trust – and can also help to bridge the gap when integrating in with new staff.
“Often [when] you go into a football club, unless you’re allowed to bring in your own staff, you’re having to go in and trust people you don’t actually know and what their relationship is or might be [with the player].”
When managers can logically see how the path from raw data translates to actionable insights, they’re more likely to trust AI-generated recommendations – particularly when it’s coupled with responsible professional opinion. This has already been seen with an explosion of use cases in other areas such as the use of data-informed talent ID and recruitment processes being harmonised with professional opinions over the last few years.
Ultimately, as a manager, it’s always a case of looking out for and optimising your best players.
The insights gathered from the workshop highlight the significance that AI tools like Zone7 can have for improving daily workflows and enhancing player availability for both training and matches.
By addressing concerns related to data overwhelm, trust-building, and timely information delivery, AI tools like Zone7 are proving to significantly improve a manager’s professional workflows, help them make data-informed decisions to facilitate greater levels of player availability, and potentially lead to increased footballing success.
“I would think most clubs who can afford it would do it, [as] any kind of information is crucial because you’re always looking for a percentage, a small percentage, an edge, to win a game because we’re working in league’s [that are] not equal… For me it’s an absolute no-brainer,” concluded one manager.
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