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How The FA is moving the goal posts with a data cloud approach in Qatar

We’re moments away from the kick-off of another historic tournament. After the England men’s football team reached the Euro 2020 final in last year’s pandemic-delayed competition, there is genuine confidence in a successful run in Qatar.

The Football Association (The FA) is the governing body of association football in England, and has left no stone unturned in its preparations; they have increasingly looked to physical performance data as a way to help support players on the pitch. Maintaining accurate and insightful information on fitness, conditioning, and nutrition also helps ensure player welfare – something that gets more important with every fixture in a tournament environment.

The need for improved understanding of how players are faring was the reason The FA set up the Performance Insights strand of its Physical Performance, Medicine, and Nutrition department during lockdown in 2020. And they used Google Cloud to help them revolutionize the way they capture, store, and process information.

A single 90-minute squad training session can generate millions of rows of data. In football, things change so quickly that this data begins to lose relevance as soon as the players are back in the dressing room. That’s why The FA needed a solution which could turn raw data into valuable, easy-to-understand insights. This led the team to BigQuery, Google Cloud’s data warehouse solution.

BigQuery enables The FA’s Performance Insights team to automate previously labor-intensive tasks, and for all the information to be stored in a single, centralized platform for the first time. By collating different data sources across The FA’s squads, there can be greater clarity and fewer siloes – everyone is working towards the same goals. 

 A unique solution for a unique tournament

Access to insights is vital in any tournament situation, but this year there is a need for speed like never before. 

Unlike previous tournaments, Qatar will start in the middle of domestic league seasons throughout the world. Traditionally, international sides are able to meet up for nearly a month between the end of the league season and the start of the tournament – a critical time to work on all aspects of team preparation, including tactics and conditioning. By contrast, this year the England players will have less than a week to train together before the first kick-off.

BigQuery allows The FA’s data scientists to combine data on many aspects of a player’s physical performance captured during a training camp, from intensity to recovery. This can enable more useful conversations on the ground and can help create more individualized player management. And by using BigQuery’s user-defined customisable functions, the same data can be tweaked and tailored to fit the needs across departments. 

This customizability provides a foundation for a truly ‘interdisciplinary’ team in which doctors, strength and conditioners, physios, psychologists, and nutritionists have a common understanding of the support a player needs.

Every minute will count during such a compressed training window, so automation is key. While BigQuery is the core product The FA uses to store and manipulate data, it’s just one part of a suite of Google Cloud products and APIs that help them easily turn data into insights. 

In-game and training performance data, along with data pertaining to players’ sleep, nutrition, recovery, and mental health can be captured and fed through Python, which links straight into BigQuery using its Pub/Sub functionality. BigQuery’s native connectors then stream insights to visual dashboards that convey them in a meaningful, tangible format.  

Before leveraging the power of Google Cloud, this work could take several hours each day. Now, it can take a minute from data capture to the coaches having access to clear and actionable information. 

Predicting a bright future for the Beautiful Game

We won’t have long to wait to see how England will perform in Qatar. But the benefits of The FA’s cloud-enabled approach to data science will continue long after the final whistle has blown.

The short preparation window has posed challenges for The FA, but it has also given the organization a unique opportunity to discover how predictive analytics and machine learning on Google Cloud could further enhance its player performance strategy. 

The Physical Performance, Medicine, and Nutrition department has collected performance data from players throughout this year’s league season, taking into account fixture density and expected physical demand. They hope to use this to support the players’ physical preparation and recovery during the tournament based on individual physical performance profiles.

This ML work is still in the early stages. But the Performance Insights team is confident that by developing even closer relationships with Google Cloud and even greater familiarity with its technology, they will be able to unlock an even greater level of insight into player performance.

Learn more about how Google Cloud can turn raw data into actionable insights, fast.

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