Digital transformation in the German Bundesliga

Digital transformation in the German Bundesliga

14th June will see the start of the Football World Cup in Russia. And, because digitalisation also does not stop at football, it remains to be seen who will come out ahead since only physique and technical training are comparable.

Team networking, taking part in training drills, downloading training ideas – the football software from enables clubs to manage their team effortlessly. TSG Hoffenheim, for example, was already an extremely innovative club when it was promoted to the Bundesliga in 2008. They had hired one of the most modern coaches in Ralf Rangnick as well as a psychologist called Hans-Dieter Hermann. Incidentally, in those days, a psychologist in the Bundesliga was still seen as a creative solution. And, with Bernard Peters, a former national field hockey coach, the club had brought in a tactical wizard from another successful team sport – which was considered very cutting edge at the time. This was way before 2013, when the Deutscher Fußball-Bund (DFB – German Football Association) recruited Peters’ successor Markus Weise, a hockey coach, to head up the DFB Academy.

The sports psychologist Jan Mayer, Hans-Dieter Hermann’s successor, is as similarly committed to innovation as his predecessors. A few years ago he still had a low opinion of cognitive psychology, but football has changed decisively in the past ten years. Peter Rosen, who is in charge of professional football at the club, said at a meeting with the health insurer AOK Baden-Württemberg in 2016 that a game was now decided in the players’ heads, since the physique and technical training of many of the Bundesliga players were comparable. Jan Mayer is of a similar mind. The passing speed at top level is now three times faster, so physiologically players are at their performance limit, but their mental capacity is far from exhausted.

Playing computer games to prepare for Saturday

Today’s players have all grown up with smart phones. They use them at every opportunity, in the team bus, during training breaks, in their leisure time. They share their lives via social media, and playing computer games is part of their life. Jan Mayer exploits this. He has joined forces with SAP, the main sponsor of TSG Hoffenheim, to programme apps that players can use to simulate real football situations. Oliver Baumann, the club’s goalkeeper, recounts, for example, that the video training has already helped him to stop goals in playing situations against national players Mario Gomez and Julian Draxler.

At the beginning of each season, Mayer records a kind of basic value for the players’ mental processing speed and continues measuring this over the year to see whether they have improved. Mayer talks about annual progress of 0.2 seconds on average, which is a real competitive advantage in the professional game because often a few seconds decide the outcome of a football match.

Who doesn’t know has to leave the pitch

Their coach Julian Nagelsmann is meanwhile so enthusiastic about mental training that he has started to also apply it to analogue training on the pitch, where a football field has not two, but four goals. When the training team has scored a goal, the pitch turns by 90 degrees and the team changes. This is a way of practising flexible playing situations. During the game the coach asks some of the players what the score is, which team they are playing in, and where the goal is at that moment in time. Who doesn’t know has to leave the pitch.

Anyone who still thinks digitalisation will have no impact on their professional environment will very quickly be left behind, since even football cannot, and does not intend to, pass up on the advantages of digitalisation any longer.