Soccer Mindset Academy: A fix for football’s mental health concerns?

As the world deals with the current COVID-19 crisis, the mental wellbeing of people across the globe continues to emerge as a major concern.

Footballing communities around the world are looking at various initiatives to address mental health issues in a difficult time.

In a recent example, Football Victoria CEO Peter Filopoulos detailed his organisation’s plan to tackle possible mental health degradation during this period, through a targeted online campaign for Victorian football participants.

In football, for a long time, mental health has been under-resourced for the majority of players, especially those at a grassroots level.

CEO of Soccer Mindset Academy Yal Bekar, believes his product is a cost-effective resource that can change that perception.

“I got the idea of creating a product that focussed entirely on mindset when I came to the realisation that it was absolutely key to a player’s performance and resilience. And yet most had never even considered their mental wellbeing, let alone been educated on it. I also saw the inequality in terms of paid resources for players,” Bekar told fcbusiness.

“There was then, and still is, a huge gap in what parents, clubs and coaches offer players in the form of mindset tools. We set about to address that four years ago, and now it feels like our time has truly come to shine a light and offer a really accessible way to make a difference in these young players’ lives.”

The academy has developed their own curriculum and tools in consultation with leading experts in a number of fields.

Dr Matt Pain, a sports psychologist in elite sport for over 15 years, including a stint of 10 years managing the English FA’s psychology research, was involved in the process of content development in the product. As was Andy Barton, a leading performance coach in the UK.

In company with the academy’s focus on implementing positive tools for the mental resilience of players, it is their intent to influence change at a junior grassroots level.

In 2019, the Soccer Mindset Academy became sponsors of the Jason Roberts Foundation, a charity created by a former professional footballer which offered participation and playing opportunities to young people who had little chance of accessing coaching.

They donated a specifically created mindset platform to the foundation, whilst also providing 200 players with access to online mindset training.

That same year, in an effort to raise awareness of the importance of mindset for young female players, the organisation sponsored SheKicks magazine and their coverage of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France.

Yal Bekar thinks a lot more can still be done in regards to showcasing the significance of mental wellbeing in football.

“We are stepping up our efforts to reach players globally by creating a reasonably priced Soccer Mindset Challenge specifically to highlight and educate young players on the importance of mental wellbeing at this challenging time,” he said.

The new Soccer Mindset Challenge is set to launch in May of this year, in the same timeframe as Mental Health Awareness Month.

The aim of the challenge is to increase young players’ awareness of different mindset tools that can be accessed while social distancing during the COVID-19 restrictions.

In a time period where certain players may feel uncomfortable due to the lack of a normal school routine, the company’s app has daily workouts that can be completed at home.

These workouts encourage positive mindset habits and mental wellbeing, whilst also providing structured and educational pieces using different types of football video, audio and practical exercises.

These activities also benefits coaches, clubs and parents at a time when usual activities are unable to occur, improving young players in alternative ways.

How young players respond during this pandemic will have an impact on the way they are in the future.

It is crucial for clubs, parents and relevant stakeholders to provide them with positive tools and techniques to help them out of this period without scheduled competitive football.

While Soccer Mindset Academy may not be the ultimate fix, it provides a template that can be used and adapted for a generation of young players who are trying to deal with the current situation around the world.

Philip Panas is a sports journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on football policy and industry matters, drawing on his knowledge and passion of the game.

Eyeball: Changing the foundation of scouting

The very foundation of scouting has changed forever. 

Eyeball is an Artificial intelligence (AI) powered product designed to assist footballing entities in scouting the potential football athletes from various countries around the world.

With over 100,000 players within the technologies database all comprised of youth players, football clubs across the globe are raising their eyebrows as to what this brilliant technology can provide.

The system acts as a football scout. Remotely and in the convenience of a smartphone device, the search and evaluation of performance capacity of the players within its database can be compared to football’s finest players. The service prides itself on optimising academy recruitment, without a club worrying about the financial difficulties involved in travel or acquisition of scouting personnel.

The contemporary scouting platform has an established and researched insight database, all gathered from the youth academies of Europe’s leading football giants.

European markets including the footballing nations of Spain, England, Germany, Holland, Belgium, and Croatia are also joined by the African markets of Ghana, Mali, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Guinea, Senegal and Sierra Leone. These are the markets in which Eyeball operate within, acting as the ever growing customer base of their elite scouting technology.

Youth scouting is strenuous. Professional clubs who are struggling within their respective leagues due to being less financially opportunistic, are already on the back-foot. With its locality and lack of scouting network, the fundamental exercise in terms of growing a club and its talent pool, becomes surplus. The purpose of Eyeball and its technology is to make the scouting process simple yet effective, as it has essentially modernised the process, bridging the gap between potential players and professional clubs.

Determined to enhance its science, searchable player data is a primary focus of Eyeball in which they seek to further improve. This is through the analysation of video data from talented players throughout the globe, combatted with the collection of a prospects data.

The data collected is imperative. Driven by 13 statistical parameters, it includes shots on target, successful dribbles, incisive passes and passes in the final third – just to name a few.

The parameters collected can be searched by the club officials using the app, perhaps on the hunt for a player in whom possess specific qualities dependent on what the club requires on the pitch.

Summaries of key stats are compiled by AI based upon data collected from partner clubs that have detailed profiles upon talent within the database. The AI technology allows partnered clubs to put these prospects into AI generated match-simulations, allowing for the assessment of a players performance all through the use of Eyeball’s data breakdown technology.

The player app feature of Eyeball can be a considered a polarizing tool in which football participants can utilise in order to garner a tangible understanding of their ability. The player app allows players to access performance data from within the platform while also showcasing to the scouts using the technology, the ability in which the player possesses.

Games can be watched back by players, while Eyeball analyses the games and a breakdown of the performance. This allows players and coaches to make the necessary changes to a players training routine, showcasing the areas in which are in need of improvement.

It basically allows a player to sell themselves to scouts. Professional clubs are examining the profiles and the players are able to customize their profile, showcasing their greatest qualities in-match highlights. Matches can be watched back and analysed, as they are stored within Eyeball’s database.

Individuals can hunt for specific match moments, with a play-by-play game events feature dissecting every move a player makes throughout matches documented. Eyeball’s analysts watch each match closely, providing a breakdown of performance statistics. Players distribution performance, as well as their offensive and defensive performances are outlined.

Eyeball possesses the ambition of wanting to become a pioneer in bridging the gap between talented youth prodigies and becoming the next generational top tier of talent across the globe. All through the inclusive access of insight and data performance surveyed and interpreted through its system.

Over 100 professional clubs are using the Eyeball technology, with the company making major waves in regards to the foundation in which scouting is exercised. Perhaps it would be in the interest of Australia professional clubs to also utilise this ground-breaking technology for their benefit.  

TacticAI: Revolutionising the way coaches analyse corner kicks

TacticAI is an artificial intelligence (AI) system that can provide experts with tactical insights, particularly on corner kicks, through predictive and generative AI.

Importantly, it is a full AI system that could give coaches instant, extensive, and accurate tactical insights – that are also practical on the field.

As part of Google’s partnership with Liverpool FC, their DeepMind team have worked on this innovate project for a couple of years in an attempt to revolutionise the way elite football clubs are analysing corner kicks in the sport.

TacticAI demonstrates the potential of assistive AI techniques to revolutionize sports for players, coaches, and fans. Sports like football are also a dynamic domain for developing AI, as they feature real-world, multi-agent interactions, with multimodal data.

TacticAI is built to address three core questions:

  1. For a given corner kick tactical setup, what will happen? e.g., who is most likely to receive the ball, and will there be a shot attempt?
  2. Once a setup has been played, can we understand what happened? e.g., have similar tactics worked well in the past?
  3. How can we adjust the tactics to make a particular outcome happen? e.g., how should the defending players be repositioned to decrease the probability of shot attempts?

TacticAI’s main use is to assist current coaches by finding similar corner kicks and testing different tactics to influence a decision.

Instead of analysts reviewing the footage of previous games over and over again to discover a specific team’s corner routine, the technology computes the numerical representations of players to easily look up past routines.

The AI technology’s generative model allows human coaches to redesign corner kick tactics to optimise probabilities of certain outcomes, such as reducing the probability of a shot attempt for a defensive setup.

TacticAI provides tactical recommendations which adjust positions of all the players on a particular team. From these proposed adjustments, coaches can identify important patterns, as well as key players for a tactic’s success or failure, more quickly.

In Google’s quantitative analysis, it showed that TacticAI was accurate at predicting corner kick receivers and shot situations, and that player repositioning was similar to how real plays unfolded.

Human football experts from Liverpool FC found that the tech’s suggestions cannot be distinguished from real corners and were favoured over their original situations 90% of the time. The data is demonstrating its efficiency and usefulness at the top level.

Google are trying to find new ways to utilise AI in football because the sport is a very dynamic and challenging game to analyse. The company is using this technology to try and blend human expertise (Football coaches and analysts) with the AI’s analysis suggestions to help make coaching at the very top level more efficient.

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