| Written By Lloyd Webb Features

Gothia Cup Review: How Far Did Technology Take The PLAYR Academy?

Selecting 15 players who had never played together before and preparing them in just six weeks for the world’s largest youth international tournament, we created the PLAYR Academy to see how far performance technology used by the professionals could take them. The answer, as we found out at this summer all the way in Sweden, was pretty far.

Playing nine games in six days, scoring 32 goals and losing just once, the PLAYR Academy reached the final out of 186 teams competing in our age category at the Gothia Cup. An annual tournament attracting 1700 sides from 80 countries, the feat was all the more impressive when you consider our side were up against established clubs from across the globe, including the likes of Bayer Leverkusen and Leeds United.

Behind results such as an 14-0 opening game victory against Tunisian outfit Villa Park and a tense 1-0 win over Jockey Club de Rosario – an Argentine club based in Lionel Messi’s city of birth – was our technology. PLAYR was with the Academy for every step of the journey, providing manager Sean Conlon and his squad with performance data and sports science to ensure preparation, performance and recovery at the level required to succeed.

“It was awesome, an incredible experience that was emotionally and physically draining, but so much fun,” Conlon explains. “We have some memories that we will never forget. It wasn’t easy getting to the final of the world’s largest international youth tournament, especially with the resources and time we had to prepare. I would say say this was our biggest challenge.

“In some ways it worked in our favour – the fact is, we didn’t have a set team. On the flip side, we didn’t get time to work properly on different scenarios playing out from the back, we didn’t get to work on defending set pieces and we didn’t get to work on attacking set pieces.”

Every player was set up with an account so they could access their data and insight, and having to play up to three games a day in the latter stages of the tournament, sports science insight from Premier League coaches and workload management became invaluable. Distance covered was an important feature for wingers Frankie Church and Josh Setchell as Conlon’s emphasis on width required the hard yards up and down the touchline, while striker Luke Plange, our top goalscorer at the tournament, was expected to beat markers with sudden bursts of pace.

Combining data tracking with analysis from our SmartCoach system, the numbers produced from hour-long matches were brought to life. Courtesy of our easy-to-use app, players had tailored advice on diet, exercise and scheduling from Premier league coaches such as Leicester City’s Matt Reeves and Wales’ Tony Strudwick. Such insight from the very best in the business proved to be crucial for preparation, performance and recovery in Gothenburg according to Conlon.

“We found we used it more and more for motivational things such as highlighting players who running well or getting great stats,” he continues. “They would be talked about in team talks and it would let everyone know there was an expectation of performance – there were no hiding places. We were constantly referring to the data throughout so players knew they had to run. They were motivated as it was, but that was a big part of it.

“You could see the players in their digs constantly competing with one another over who could run the fastest, who could get the most power. They were analysing their heat maps and looking where they were spending time on the pitch. It was really helpful for them to be thinking about the game when they weren’t with us. It was also helpful for the recovery as well. That schedule was insane – three games on a Friday and two games on a Thursday at an hour-long each.

“We had a really small squad compared to other teams,” summarises Conlon. “The app would give us bits of advice to help the players with bits of recovery between games and that was vital for us. Parts of the knowledge from the SmartCoach system myself and Marcelo had already as coaches ourselves and we planned to bring out foam rollers as stretching is vital for recovery, but there were things the app encouraged us to do which maybe we wouldn’t have considered.

“For instance, on one of the days we took the lads to the gym and got them doing some work on a bike and treadmill. It also gave the players an approach to preparation that I don’t think they would have had if they didn’t have the app to work with. Psychologically, they were taking it far more seriously with the app.”

With the PLAYR Academy returning to England as runners-up, there’s good reason to be excited about the future. Keep your eyes peeled fro more from the PLAYR Academy, while you can check out all the information from our week in Gothenburg right here.