Could wearable tech be the key to Big Sam’s success?

After the familiar tournament disappointment for English football, Sam Allardyce has been appointed as the new England manager. He inherits a squad of energetic young talent along with a bemusing legacy of slender spines when tournament pressure mounts. Talk about a ‘lack of passion’ is cheap, but if the ‘heart and soul’ conundrum really is the problem, how can it be rectified? Could wearable technology’s biometric data of both mental and physical performance one day help Big Sam select an England team who are truly ‘up for it’ and end 50 years of hurt?

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The answer, in the not-so-distant future, could be ‘Earables’ or hearables, as they are also known. While we are familiar with wrist-worn trackers like Fitbit and Jawbone, the earables lineage has already begun. We need look no further than Bragi’s ‘Dash, Doppler Labs, Moto Hint or Sony’s Xperia Ear to understand the variety of in-ear services being developed. Google, Apple and Microsoft are all developing earables too – a strong sign this highly competitive space is no passing fad. Sport performance earables are a very real prospect and their data is an evolving opportunity to fashion a competitive edge.

The NFL has already set a sports precedent in hi-tech player tracking. Since 2015 all 1,696 players have had RFID chips fitted to their helmets capable of sending back stats in real time on position, pace, distance travelled and acceleration. That’s great for sports technicians but it’s also rich entertainment data for the TV networks. Of course, neither NFL helmets nor wearable trackers in their current wrist form are suitable for football (soccer) players, but the data-benefit opportunity is clear.

Allardyce is no stranger to the power of data. He is a details man, always seeking a competitive edge to gain advantage. His use of technical data and player performance statistics has been documented through his use of PROZONE while manager at Bolton, contributing to the club’s successful entry into European football. Could earables become a credible option without the backing of major leagues and football institutions? Not in five years, but certainly within 10 the argument could be overwhelmingly persuasive and as obvious as goal-line technology is today.

Performance tracking through earables presents three key benefits:

  1. Ease of acceptance
  2. Rich, reliable data
  3. Mass market appeal


  1. Acceptance

Humans have been used to having earbuds or earphones since the 1980s with the arrival of personal stereos. With today’s smartphones, with music and movie access on the go, our in-ear habits are ubiquitous. Technology has advanced significantly over the last few years not only to miniaturise the in-ear technology, but also to make it fit comfortably and safely. This will continue to a point where the device is no larger than the size of a garden pea, and externally inconspicuous. Companies like United Sciences, specialising in hand-held 3D scanning, will soon ensure that obtaining perfect, secure in-ear fit is as commonplace as getting our feet measured for shoes, and that is essential for permitted use in aggressive contact sports like football.Blog 2

2. Rich reliable data

Compared to the wrist, the inner ear is actually a far more reliable and data rich location on the human body to measure biometric performance.

Bragi’s Dash, with its 23 embedded sensors, tracks speed, time, distance and cadence, and vital body performance information including heart rate, blood pressure, temperature and pulse. Bragi (and its competitors no doubt) are developing a future version that measures electrocardiography and brain waves in the form of electro-encephalogram signals (EEGs).

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This area is especially potent in understanding the correlation of biomechanical data, brain patterns and actual performance under stress. Sports coaches will know from the data if a player is suffering from the pressure of the occasion. Confidence, concentration and commitment are all vital psychological conduits to optimum performance in competitive matches and maximising the talent of players in the way we’d expect.

In the European Championship both Wales and Iceland demonstrated how a collective positive psychology combined with a mix of talent can overcome supposedly superior teams like England. Imagine if England’s technical team could compare the biometric and EEG data of England and Wales throughout the tournament, identifying which players could rise to the occasion rather than wilt.

3. Mass Market Appeal

With 76.4% of baby boomers moving into their 50s, 60s and 70s, earables will be at a confluence of smart technology and the needs of an aging population. Augmenting the need for an inconspicuous hearing device, smart connectivity and the benefits of a real-time geo-locating health tracking device, monitoring personal health and alerting emergency services in the event of a health incident will place this form of wearable tech into the mainstream over the next 10 years.


The Sports Evolution

The world of sport, not just football, is in transition. It’s time for disruption and a clean sheet. Institutions must regain trust and show a more accountable, progressive architecture that places sport and its interests and development back in the realm of the fans and competitors. It has taken an age for the introduction of goal-line technology but perhaps the future will see the game embrace technology more emphatically for the good of sports evolution.

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So, within a decade we might imagine safely fitting, highly sensitive earables as regular a part of competitive sport as the action replay. Sport scientists will correlate the playing behaviour of supposedly motivated players against a recognised data set of biological statistics. Heartrate, oxygen conversion, adrenalin, reactive speed, energy conversion are all chemical processes that indicate a player is firing on all cylinders or not – translating to confidence, concentration and commitment.

The pre-match press conferences that hype England’s preparedness of spirit, sharpness and focus, packaged into media friendly ‘up for it’ language, may actually be backed up by hard data – from the training pitch and the stadium performances.

Following the precedent of the NFL, TV broadcast networks might pay a handsome figure to make such rich performance data public. And while that’s another debate entirely, whether analysed by the team manager or national media, a player will have nowhere to hide. It might even see the eradication of performance-enhancing drug abuse.

If technology were to provide a chance to change England’s fortunes, Big Sam would be ‘all ears’. And we’d know if he was up for it – we’d have all the data we need to prove it.

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Simon Woollard
Global Creative Director at PRISM

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