Adidas miCoach Smart Ball: Get your high-tech kicks
From the outside, it might seem football is backwards when it comes to technology. On the field, it lags behind most professional sports on video replays, and it took years for goal-line tech to be approved for top flight matches.
Behind the scenes at the richest clubs in the world, though, technology is everywhere, from tracking sensors in shirts and boots to state-of-the-art medical facilities; and now Adidas is bringing that hidden sports tech to the high street, with the miCoach Smart Ball.
The Smart Ball is exactly as its name suggests. It’s a football made “smart” through the use of internal sensors that record various data about how it’s been kicked. The thinking is that you’ll look at the stats and use them to improve your game. In fact, if you believe the packaging, this ball can help you become the next Xavi, Beckham or van Persie.
Obviously that’s not going to happen, but at £145 it’s clearly no toy. The question is, can it be put to use a serious training aid?
How does it work?
If you were to slice open the miCoach you’d find a network of sensors inside, dedicated to tracking all sorts of different parameters. These battery-powered electronics connect with your smartphone over Bluetooth 4, and the numbers are then crunched by the miCoach Smart Ball app, available on both iOS and Android.
Credit should to be given to Adidas for managing to equip a ball with all this tech without compromising the overall look and feel. Pick it up and it’s impossible to tell the difference between it and any standard football.
The outer panels are constructed from TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane), just like all modern professional balls, and it even meets FIFA regulations for size (5) and weight (400g), despite the extra baggage inside.
So far so good. However, this is where the limitations start to sneak in. You might think you could simply play a match with it, then download the data 90 minutes later for analysis. Alas, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
First up, you have to charge the thing, which is comparatively simple. Adidas has equipped the miCoach with wireless charging technology, so you can simply drop it on the supplied dock rather than having to physically plug it in.
The ball needs to be carefully aligned so the charging area on the ball faces down, but this isn’t too fiddly and it takes very little time to get up to full strength; an hour on the dock gives a week of play, or 2,000 kicks.
Ready to play? Hold your horses: Adidas has a few more hoops for you to jump through first. Before you can capture any kind of data, you need to place the football on a flat surface with the Adidas logo facing upwards, then align the ball’s printed arrows facing the forwards.
Next, launch the Smart Ball app on your phone (are you keeping up?), check the ball is paired, and enter which foot you are going to use; hit the “tap when ready to kick” button, wait for the ref’s whistle then put your laces through it. Simple, huh?
Except that isn’t all. The ball also has to travel more than 12 yards and at a height of at least three feet before it registers any data at all. If you scuff it, you’ll get nothing. If you blast a rocket of a shot along the ground into the corner of the net, you’ll get nothing.
What about the stats?
It might take some time to set up, but once you’ve registered a successful kick, you’re free to binge on the stats, and there’s plenty here to get your teeth into.
The ball records your shot’s speed, RPM and trajectory, and the point of contact. Initially, these stats are interesting, even exciting. I now know, for instance, that I took my best shot at 5.39pm on Monday 18 May 2015. It travelled at 53mph with a rotational speed of 393rpm. Oh, and I hit the ball just to the right of centre, which caused it to fade a little from right to left.
Now, what am I supposed to do with that information?
The app thinks it has the answer to this conundrum, and it can be found in the “Get Better” section. Here, you can work on your “Ball Mastery”, “Ball Striking”, “Striking with Power”, “Bending around/over the wall” and “No-spin knuckle ball”.
Each section has a tutorial video and step-by-step instructions on how to hit the perfect shot. And while it’s all sound advice and (I presume) technically accurate, it’s wasted on me. Did I bother reading this advice after I grubber kicked one into the centre of the goal or sliced another over the bar? Nope. I just trotted 40 yards to retrieve the ball and did the same thing again. And again.
Will it improve your game?
If reviewing the Smart Ball has taught me anything, it’s that I’m not very good at football. That and playing on your own isn’t much fun at all… no matter how many stats you can get from it.
However, the miCoach Smart Ball is exciting as a technological first. Not just for football, but for all ball sports.
It may be limited right now, but with more advanced tools for analysis and a sphere of use that extends beyond the limited, dead-ball scope of this product, smart balls could provide a wealth of useful data to coaches, and media operations across the sporting landscape.