Taka Grips: The high-performance grip socks making a difference

Taka Grips is a high-performance grip socks company based in Sydney, with the overall aim of improving player performance and comfort on the field.

Liam McConaghy, the founder of the business, explained to Soccerscene that his own personal experiences of discomfort on the pitch inspired him to find a viable solution to issues affecting his game.

“It was actually November last year, so not that long ago, we started back at preseason – I play in NPL NSW and I was signed for St George at the time,” he said.

“What happened was we were training on an artificial turf on a Sunday and it was really hot (it was coming into summer) and my feet were just getting torn to shreds.

“There were just the worst blisters and I could feel the friction inside my boot – so I thought to myself I need to find a fix and investigated what all this grip sock business was about.”

He personally never had owned a pair of grip socks, but was left dismayed by the prices he saw online for the item, which prompted him to try and start his own business.

“I got online to buy some and they were $70 a pair,” McConaghy said.

“So, I guess I just had a thought to myself (about creating the business), it just sort of started off as one of those ideas.”

A PE and Design and Technology teacher by trade, McConaghy used his expertise in these areas to devise his product at a much more affordable price of $30.

“I have got a bit of experience and training with graphic design and that sort of thing, so I had a bit of a play around and contacted some suppliers and manufacturers and eventually, one thing led to another.”

The sock itself is made with durable and lightweight material, however its custom grip placement and advanced technology is specifically beneficial for players looking to improve their change of direction, speed, agility and enhance their comfort.

“The socks have got these little grip pads that are basically pressed into the socks through a high-heat glue gun,” McConaghy said.

“I’ve strategically placed them all over the bottom of the sock in places where you would have the most pressure inside your boot. So for example, around the ball of the foot and the back of the heel – I made sure mine came up the back of the foot, so you wouldn’t get that slippage in the back of your boot where a lot of the blisters happen.

“Essentially what happens is you don’t slide around in your boot, so without any friction in your boot you don’t get blisters and it’s better for your movement.”

Taka Grip Socks – White

Although only recently launching the business, the socks have gathered an immediate following and appreciation from professional football players in the A-League and around the world, in leagues such as the J-League.

“I’ve pretty much been playing NPL1 since I was 14 years old, I used to play with the likes of Massimo Luongo and Aaron Mooy,” McConaghy said.

“So, I’ve got old contacts through playing and reached out to a few people and asked if they’d like to wear them, which they were more than happy to and from there more doors have opened.”

Other professional players from different codes including NRL and AFL have also been using the product, with the socks now entering more sports department stores around Australia.

Social media, particularly the company’s Instagram page, has increased the profile of the grip socks to a wider audience, but possible future partnerships with football clubs and state federations across Australia is a logical next step, according to McConaghy.

“While I have thought about expanding into different clothing down the line, firstly it would be good to be able to get some clubs onboard with Taka Grips through a sponsorship, supplying the whole club from juniors through to first grade,” he said.

In the present however, McConaghy is proud of the work he has done so far and how quickly the product has already grown.

“I am very proud, because it sort of just started out of nowhere,” he said.

“I literally just thought let’s give it a crack, apart from some help from my girlfriend I’ve pretty much done it all myself.

“It makes me proud, especially when I look at the calibre of people who are wearing them.”

For more information on Taka Grips visit their website here: https://www.takagrips.com.au/

 

 

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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.

Sevilla FC: Transforming player scouting with IBM’s generative AI

In 2021, Sevilla FC, a premier team from Andalusia, Spain, faced an overwhelming amount of paperwork.

With a top-tier scouting team of 20 to 25 scouts, each player could generate up to 40 scout reports, necessitating 200 to 300 hours of review. Altogether, Sevilla FC had to manage over 200,000 reports on potential players, a task that demanded an enormous amount of time.

Earlier in the year, Sevilla’s fortunes started to change for the better in terms of time management.

They had introduced a collaboration with the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) having confirmed Scout Advisor, a cutting-edge AI tool that will equip the club’s scouting team with extensive data for identifying and evaluating potential player signings.

Developed using IBM’s watsonx, which is an AI and data platform for businesses, the club introduced the Scout Advisor concept to integrate it into its existing suite of in-house data-generative tools.

IBM is a top provider of global hybrid cloud, AI solutions, and consulting services. They assist clients in over 175 countries in leveraging data insights, optimising business processes, reducing costs, and gaining a competitive advantage in their industries.

Over 4,000 government and corporate entities in vital sectors like financial services, telecommunications, and healthcare depend on IBM’s hybrid cloud platform and Red Hat OpenShift for rapid, efficient, and secure digital transformations.

IBM’s ground-breaking advancements in AI, quantum computing, industry-specific cloud solutions, and consulting provides their clients with open and flexible options.

Sevilla FC’s data department collaborated with the IBM Client Engineering Team to develop Scout Advisor, utilising watsonx’s natural language processing (NLP) and foundation models to search and analyse extensive information in the club’s databases for evaluating potential recruits. This encompasses quantitative data such as height, weight, speed, goals scored, and minutes played, as well as qualitative data such as a player’s attitude and alignment with the team philosophy from over 200,000 scouting reports.

During the period in 2021, Sevilla FC could quickly access and utilise quantitative player data within seconds, but retrieving qualitative information from the database was significantly slower in contrast.

The solution’s natural language processing capabilities allow the club to utilise multiple large language models (LLMs) to enhance the accuracy and efficiency of player identification. By interpreting scouts’ descriptions of key player characteristics, Scout Advisor creates a curated lists of candidates matching the desired traits and summarises comprehensive reports for each player. Additionally, Scout Advisor connects each player to the existing database to provide detailed quantitative performance data.

Player recruitment has traditionally relied on a mix of subjective human observation and data analysis. However, these methods are limited by the time they require and the few factors they consider. IBM’s Scout Advisor now gives the club a competitive edge by merging these existing indicators with generative AI, bridging the gap between data-driven scouting and hard to measure human behaviours.

This advancement will enhance Sevilla’s talent identification and support the decision-making processes.

The club’s scouting team is well-known for its data-driven approach to recruiting emerging talent. Furthermore, the club is at the forefront of developing innovative methods to use detailed information, allowing for a more holistic evaluation of every player they scout.

Watsonx processes this data and presents it in understandable terms, identifying potential signings using key qualitative indicators and expert scouting insights.

The club intends to use Scout Advisor during the summer in the recruiting season and expects to see results by September, with feedback having been positive so far.

With the time saved, scouts can now focus on human-centric tasks such as engaging with recruits, observing games, and making data-supported decisions.

One thing is certain is that the ability to make better-informed decisions about who to play, when to play them, and why has fundamentally transformed the recruitment process at Sevilla FC. This refined approach has not only enhanced the club’s ability to identify and secure top talent but has also provided a strategic edge in their overall team management and performance planning.

Recently, Melbourne Knights FC had agreed a new collaboration with leading football management software company, ProTrainUp. It would benefit local clubs, in terms of time management, to follow suit and by doing this they can focus their attention elsewhere.

Investing in AI is not a walk in the park as it does require large amount of funds, however A-League sides in both the men’s and women’s should also be taking an approach into implementing technology whether it’s for player scouting or the way footballers train, for a task that demands a vast amount of time that could easily be executed by AI as it eases the workload on team management and club operations.

ReSpo.Vision: AI and AR/VR that revolutionises data tracking

ReSpo.Vision is an AI & Computer Vision-based optical tracking system which automatically collects player skeletal tracking data from any single camera recording of a sporting event.

Using immersive 3D visuals, the system allows the audience to unlock performance data and insights that weren’t before available like tactical or scouting insights with AR/VR.

Respo.Vision – a Polish-based start-up founded in early 2020 started by four founders – Pawel Osterreicher, Mateusz Szala, Wojciech Rosiński, and Łukasz Grad.

These four individuals have had combined experiences in data science, consulting and machine learning engineering, and believe AI can unlock a wealth of possibilities by capturing previously uncapturable player tracking data.

The company’s mission is to bring a new depth of analytics to sports using Computer Vision.

The product merges the immersive AR/VR world with the deep analytical environment that sports is, and the company specifically specialises in football.

They leverage bleeding-edge deep learning algorithms to automatically generate 3D skeletal tracking data from sporting events and analyse it with an unprecedented level of insight.

The technology system detects 3D positions of the ball and 50+ body parts of every player, in every video frame, using a single-camera video input (which can be any recording, present or past, a TV broadcast, or a training session recording). Fully automatically, for any game, with accuracy measured in centimetres, and without any wearable sensors or expensive pre-installed cameras.

The company are scaling up their clientele (among them clubs, leagues, federations, media, or sports data companies) and are doing so by offering an unmatched depth of knowledge in a scalable, and cost-effective way.

ReSpo.Vision Head of Product Mateusz Dłużniewski presenting at the GSIC powered by Microsoft Summit APAC in Singapore.

The technology is split into two different products: Data & Stats as well as Visuals which allow the audience a chance to choose how they want to experience the game.

This is how each work:

Data and Stats

– 2D & 3D Tracking data: Uses coordinates of players’ body parts & the ball generated from any match recording, even TV broadcasts with the option to view the game in either 2D or 3D.

– Physical data: Tracks accurate physical measurements, including speed, acceleration, body orientation, or motion types

– Game reports: 3D tracking-derived analytical summary of any game. Revealing unique metrics, including player zones of control, Team Compactness, Open Passing Lanes, Pressing performance, and more – all to power better tactical decisions

Visuals

3D Digital twin of football: Recreate any real-life game in a realistic, VR-ready 3D environment with unlimited camera perspectives and full immersion.

Matchday in the metaverse: Open the gates to the virtual stadium and use VR technology to teleport fans directly into the heart of the action for an incredible immersive experience.

Data visualisations & AR Add-Ons: Enhance the fan experience or aid the player coaching process with visualized stats & insights (e.g. tactical view, pitch control overlay).

ReSpo.Vision Body Keypoints Detection.

How this technology can be used in Australia

Specifically in Australia, technology like this is severely underutilised at the top level and will be part of football in the near future, where Australia can get ahead of other Asian countries in this field.

An example to look upon is Melbourne Knights and their recent partnership with advanced data tracking system ProTrainUp who aren’t currently connected to any other club in the country.

More clubs in the country should follow in these footsteps and invest in immersive and analytical systems that give them a deeper understanding of the game, where the top European clubs first flagged as a big importance on improving on the pitch.

The founders in a recent interview with SportsPro also suggested that the system can be used by broadcast media companies to give their audience an enhanced viewing experience by allowing them to view advanced metrics, a feature that Australian football also lacks on its A-League broadcasts.

The company is truly revolutionising the AI sports realm with fans, clubs and the media being the target audience for this technology to shape the way we view and analyse football.

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