If England’s progression through the knockout stages of this year’s World Cup comes down to the lottery of a penalty shootout once again, you can bet he’ll be wishing he’d packed one of Adidas’ new miCoach Smart Balls into his suitcase.
The new piece of kit, that goes on sale today, is the latest answer to the ‘sport + technology=’ equation and, after spending 40 minutes with the ball last week, it’s not hard to see how useful a tool the Smart Ball could be.
A sensor in the centre of the ball’s bladder allows the user to track, via a smart phone & tablet app, the flight, spin, speed and, most importantly, the point of impact of the players foot on the ball. Through it’s in app guide, and thanks to visual assists in the design of the ball’s leather outer-shell, the players can see exactly where they’re going wrong in either the position of their contact point on the ball, or their technique leading up to the strike, thanks to the in-app video recorder and frame-by-frame replay function.
The app provides tips and guides for the user and can be used as either a way of training yourself, or to test the consistency and control of your strikes, with all the data being stored internally with-in the app.
I first saw the product at an event last year, just before the Champions League Final at Wembley, and was immediately sceptical about how useful the Smart Ball could be. Could it really help with a player’s technique, shot power and the control of their shots. However, after spending some time using it, I could already see how, as a training product for free-kicks, penalties and generally improving foot-to-ball contact, the ball was no mere gimmick.
There are, as with all new technology, some drawbacks to it at this launch stage.
Firstly, individuals can’t pool their stats into their own mini profile on the app, meaning that using it as a long term improvement guide for multiple players will either require each individual to store their results on their own personal smartphone/tablet, or will have to take note of the exact time they used the ball and sift through the date to collect their scores after training.
The sensor in the bladder doesn’t work when it’s moving either, which means every shot must be done while the ball is stationary – which makes it difficult to replicate a game experience at times.
Both of these problems are things Adidas want to develop in the future, with the software in the app and the ball’s sensor being easily upgradeable, meaning those who purchase the original product wont be left in the lurch when the next generation of the ball comes out.
They will, however, still be asked to fork out £249.99 in the shops for it, which may put off the individual and small clubs investing in it as a training tool.
It shouldn’t stop Roy and his merry band of men packing a couple in their bags as they jet off for South America though, and if he wants to make sure all his players are primed and ready for the lottery of penalties, this could well prevent us from seeing another Ashley Cole crossbar strike – well, that and the fact he’s not going to be there.