Soccer is one of the fastest-growing sports in Canada, and the soon-to-be-implemented You are Canada Soccer campaign aims to help turn today’s young players into the stars of tomorrow.
However, to drive the growth of the sport and help players improve, there’s a desperate need to develop Canada’s soccer infrastructure.
Most Canadian clubs only employ one professional coach who can be responsible for the development of up to 5,000 players and volunteer coaches. Moreover, the scouting system in Canada is almost non-existent, which means the most talented players often lack development opportunities and may ultimately fall by the wayside.
Vitruvian Sport Systems was founded to help make a difference in these young soccer players’ lives and empower the most talented of them to make a career out of the sport they love.
A revolution in grassroots soccer
Vitruvian’s mission is to bring top-class, high-tech training tools to players at all levels of Canadian soccer. Instead of relying on the cameras, biometric equipment and other state-of the-art training tools that professional clubs rely on, Vitruvian’s Zone360 Player Development and Profiling platform harnesses a piece of equipment that most players and coaches already own: a smartphone.
By connecting an inexpensive headset, players can turn their smartphones into virtual reality (VR) devices. The Zone360 app places them on a virtual field where their coaches can ask them to respond to specific match scenarios. Players must use their wits and senses to quickly assess situations and make the right decisions about where to move and what to do.
As players make decisions, the simulation advances and provides visual feedback on the outcome of the play. It also enables coaches to track the results, giving them the insight to help players improve their tactical and technical skills.
IBM makes virtual coaching possible
To make the simulation convincing, virtual teammates and opponents need to move in a realistic way. Since coaches are always pressed for time, Vitruvian wanted to give them a way to generate realistic training scenarios automatically instead of having to set all of the simulated players’ positions manually.
Vitruvian worked with a team from the IBM Machine Learning Hub in Toronto to build a machine learning model using the Jupyter Notebook application and other tools in IBM Data Science Experience. The current version of the model can analyze player positioning data from historical soccer matches and apply it within Zone360, generating realistic positions and movement patterns against which players can test themselves.
Vitruvian also sees opportunities to integrate IBM Watson artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities into Zone360. For example, the company could use machine learning to recognize the potential of players at a younger age or help professional clubs engage in smarter scouting.
In the longer term, Vitruvian could use insights from its machine learning algorithms to create a social network of soccer players with objective data about their skills, abilities and potential. This would enable professional clubs to back up their scouting instincts with hard data about undiscovered talent throughout the amateur leagues.
The ability to harness the talent that currently slips through the cracks isn’t just a problem in Canadian soccer. It’s a problem worldwide. Professional clubs are always looking for undiscovered players and new methods to streamline their scouting process. Zone360 aims to help them achieve that goal.
After deploying a prototype of Zone360 in Toronto, Vitruvian has received excellent feedback. The youngest kids adapted fastest to the technology, and even the older players reported that it was a useful addition. This quick adoption is good news not only for youngsters in Canada, but also for all promising and passionate soccer players across the world, as Zone360 gives them a better chance of achieving their dreams.