Sergey Kartashov – How Artificial Intelligence and Cybernetics Become Indispensable Tools for Athletes and Coaches

The Winter Olympic Games in Beijing have become yet another confirmation that modern international sport cannot do without technologies based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cybernetics. According to Sergey Kartashov (Sergejs Kartasovs), Senior Partner at IT company Roosh, modern athletes and their coaches now use innovative technologies that were considered a utopia some 20-30 years ago. Now, such tools help coaches, analysts, and physiotherapists to make the necessary changes in the program of training or rehabilitation after an injury.

The digitalization of international sports: VAR, VAEP, and other tools

Sergey Kartashov recalls how he recently watched one of the Champions League matches with his friends, big football fans. According to him, it was interesting for him both to follow what was happening on the field and to discuss the match nuances. He mentions the special terminology used by football-savvy people. For example, when making a decision on controversial episodes, the referee watches VAR, and heat map and xG coefficient are used to determine the player’s effectiveness. Each of these tools is developed on the basis of AI, Data Services, and the latest developments in cybernetics.

For instance, VAR technology, a video assistant referee, helps the chief referee to figure out whether there was a foul. VAR displays the controversial episode and allows one to analyze the players’ actions. A similar technology called TMO, a television match official, is used in rugby.

Sergey Kartashov also mentions data tools that are now indispensable for elite sport. If earlier a football analyst watched a match or training session with a notebook and a pen, now a Football Data Scientist analyzes the game. It is a programmer who collects data, “translates” it into a programming language, and processes it, creating a so-called football player’s radar. This term refers to a visualized set of indicators for each player. For example, a high xG coefficient (expected goals) included in this set indicates that a player is a good goalscorer, and that helps to adjust the game strategy.

Another game analysis tool is the VAEP metric (Valuing Actions by Estimating Probabilities). Despite the fact that it was developed relatively recently, in 2019, experts note its effectiveness for evaluating players’ performance during a match and use it in the rating of VAEP football players. In addition to Machine Learning tools, the metric uses the SPADL technology (Soccer Player Action Description Language) that collects and analyzes data about a player’s actions on the field. For instance, a score of +0.05 means that a player increased the chance of his team to score a goal by 0.05 by his actions. If such a score is -0.05, then the chance of the opposite team has increased by the same coefficient. According to the experts, this metric may well become the standard of football analytics.

How technologies help to improve athletes’ performance without putting them at risk

Football fans who closely follow their favorite team’s training sessions have noticed that players wear special black tops, jokingly called “bras.” These tops were developed by STATSports and are called the Apex Athlete Series. They record the distance covered by a player during the training, his pulse and heart rate, the degree of fatigue, and other parameters.

Sergey Kartashov considers the software developed by Jim Richards, a biomechanics professor from the USA, another interesting and useful invention. Using sensors and infrared cameras attached to the figure skater’s body, the software simulates all the elements and movements on the rink and displays them on the screen. This allows coaches and skaters to analyze and correct mistakes, as well as include new risky elements into the program without exposing skaters to risk.