Summary of the research project
"There are moments when your mind is very vulnerable. You feel a lot of doubts. Every person is different, every case. What I'm trying to explain is that you can go from being in good shape to being in a bad way very quickly.” Andrés Iniesta
Athletes encounter all kinds of stressors, which can be physiological (e.g., high training load) as well as psychological (e.g., losing a match). To deal with such stressors, athletes must be resilient. This is why major sports organizations such as the Dutch Olympic Committee*Dutch Sports Federation (NOC*NSF) and the Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB) consider it a priority that athletes are, and remain, physically and mentally resilient.
A major challenge that sports science and practice are currently facing is to provide insights into the resilience of athletes. Obtaining such insights requires the integration of data and innovative analyses of individual physiological and psychological processes. By employing knowledge from the field of psychology, human movement science, and data science, it becomes possible to statistically analyze the resilience of individual athletes and detect periods in which they are at risk. This is important because athletes often do not recognize that their resilience is diminishing and that they are in the danger zone. By combining physiological and psychological data, and sharing insights with athletes and coaches in an understandable way, effective measures can be taken on time (e.g., adjusting training and competition schedule).
In this innovative project, we collect data from athletes via sensors and an app, which we transfer to a secure data platform (see figure below). We use these tools and new data science algorithms to detect athletes' resilience and periods of declining resilience. In doing so, we closely collaborate with the premier league (Eredivisie) football clubs FC Groningen, Vitesse and PSV. These partners already have an advanced infrastructure to measure physiological and psychological data of athletes on a daily basis. However, interpretation of the data is still primarily based on estimates made by experts within the football clubs. This can be improved and supported by determining the resilience of the individual player using the scientific tools and analysis generated in this project.
Our action plan is as follows. In the first phase of our project, the existing measurement infrastructure of the clubs is used to map the physical stressors (such as training duration and intensity) and physical condition of the players (capacity) on a daily basis, by means of sensors that players wear on the field. The athletes will also fill out brief questions through an app about stressors (such as setbacks and subjective physiological load), and psychological states (such as confidence and motivation). To combine the different data streams and make them interpretable, our data scientists create algorithms within our online data platform, enabling us to make personalized models of resilience.
In the second phase of the project, information about physiological and psychological resilience can be shared with athletes and coaches via the app. They can use this information to take timely action to prevent physical and/or psychological problems in athletes.
Finally, within our interdisciplinary project we combine the latest knowledge and possibilities in the field of sports and data science. In close cooperation with football clubs and their infrastructure, we aim to ensure that the resilience of athletes is maintained, and where possible strengthened, so that they can (continue to) perform optimally. After this project, we aim to explore whether, and how, our tools and insights can be implemented in other fields of professional and recreational sports.