Few would argue against the idea that the best football players are those who combine great technique, physique, tactics and game intelligence. Yet, whilst the best players in the world can count on professional fitness coaches and expert dieticians to help them with the first three traits, there is no effective tool to enhance their game intelligence. The latter is rather considered as an innate gift. The purpose of Applied Cognitive Engineering (ACE), an Israeli SME, is essentially to dismiss this assumption. Rather than a gift, its founders believe in game intelligence as another skill that one can acquire with appropriate training. They developed Football IntelliGym – a sophisticated brain-training software for competitive athletes staged as a video game – partly thanks to funding under the EU-funded BRAINPEER project. ‘Football IntelliGym addresses the brain skills that are found to be strongly related to player performance,’ explains Danny Dankner, CEO of ACE. ‘These include awareness, anticipation, ability to find open spaces and create such spaces, fast and effective transition game, positioning, and planning – that is, the capacity to know what to do with the ball before receiving it. Training these skills yields much better decisions, less mistakes and fewer injuries.’ Football IntelliGym relies on a patented training approach called ‘Cognitive simulation’, which Dankner says is the only existing technology that has been proven to enhance footballers’ on-field performance. The same approach had already been used by the Israeli Air Force in the 1980s and 1990s, resulting in pilot performance improvement by over 30 %, and more recently by NCAA basketball players and Ice Hockey National Team players in the USA. Setting up the training is simple: It only requires a computer with an internet connection. ‘Players participate in a video-game-like program for 30 minutes, twice a week, either at their club or at home,’ Dankner explains. ‘The game automatically adapts to the individual player’s needs, whilst his/her coach receives progress reports. Tests on players conducted by the Cologne Sport University and the VU University Amsterdam have shown significant on-field improvement in decision-making performance compared to the control group, with results visible within two or three months.’ Huge market potential EU funding under phase 2 of H2020’s SME Instrument was key to completing the development and testing of Football IntelliGym. It helped ACE adapt its technology to football as well as conduct efficacy studies, which showed an improvement of 20 % to 30 % in the performance of players from five leading European football clubs. Extensive field trials engaging more than 600 football players were also conducted to review the product’s usability and collect market data. These add to the 30 000 athletes already using IntelliGym – constituting the world’s largest database of players’ cognitive performance and allowing ACE to keep improving the system. ‘We have performance enhancement systems offered to elite clubs and associations, and IntelliGym is offered to both clubs and individual players who want to make it to the next level (B2C market). The potential is huge: there are 265 million football players worldwide, of which 60 million are in Europe,’ Dankner enthuses. ACE’s CEO says the results are ‘overwhelming’, with clubs that used the system having already decided to fully adopt it for the years to come and players reporting very clear on-field results. ‘We envision a future where a brain workout session will be a standard routine for football players, just like physical training is. We strive to make such brain training affordable and accessible for football players of all ages and skill levels,’ he adds. Besides increasing the number of users, ACE is already focusing on applications beyond sports. Dankner argues that his company’s software is applicable to any domain where decisions have to be made under pressure with a lot of information involved, all the way from driving to training first responders and professionals in the healthcare sector.
BRAINPEER, football, basketball, hockey, Israel, SME, Intelligym, game intelligence, brain training, software