“Data can be the difference between a win and a loss”
Big data has become a key point in the evolution of worldwide sports. Crucial parameters are being swift through by teams of analysts and specialists to improve the teams, by tweaking the training schedules and creating tailor-made training programs to develop players.
The European Handball Federation (EHF) has fully aligned to the new requirements by creating a long-term cooperation with data technology specialists KINEXON. The iBall sensors and sensors in the players’ jerseys track and register every move made on the court at the EHF EURO 2022.
The collected data provides real-time information on individual performances and can help teams improve their level both during matches and during training sessions, in a scientific cooperation between the EHF and the teams involved in the competition.
“We like to develop and improve on a day-by-day basis, from tournament to tournament and this technology has truly been groundbreaking for handball,” says Carmen Manchado, a professor at the University of Alicante and member of the EHF Methods Commission.
The KINEXON technology, which offers important data points through the sensors worn by the players during the games and implemented in the ball used at the EHF EURO tournament, was firstly introduced at the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in 2018 and 2019 and the Women’s EHF EURO in 2018.
Real-time data, such as the speed from every shot taken at the EHF EURO 2022, the fastest sprint, the total distance run or the highest jump made by a player in the tournament are now one click away, both during the game and after the final whistle.
Over 7.15 million data points were stored during the 65 games at the Men’s EHF EURO 2020, which were sifted through with a fine comb, helping to develop a tailor-made training regime for players.
“This research is crucial to the development of handball because it can modify training methods and help the players both improve their qualities and enhance their stamina. For example, a line player needs other training schedules compared to, let’s say, a wing,” Manchado says.
“We have found out that the training regime for centre backs is quite similar to the one which should be used by the wings. But the left backs and the right backs need something different than the playmaker.”
Fans love the speed of shots
Therefore, there is no surprise when analysing the data, the six highest jumps at the EHF EURO 2022 – 75 centimetres – were all made by backs, including Russia’s Sergei Mark Kosorotov, Sweden’s Jonathan Carlsbogard or Portugal’s Miguel Martins.
Nor is it when only one shot from the fastest 20 in the tournament is made by a line player rather than a back, as Austria’s Fabian Posch hit a 137-kph rocket in his team’s second game of the tournament against Germany.
It is only normal for 13 of the 15 fastest speeds recorded in the tournament to be set by wings on fast breaks, with Ukraine’s Dmytro Artemenko setting the record, as the sensors recorded him developing a sprint at 8.84 m/s, which is precisely 31.8 kph.
This research is crucial to the development of handball because it can modify training methods and help the players both improve their qualities and enhance their stamina
The teams bought in into the new wave of analysing handball and are now using data to improve their chances to win a medal.
“We know that plenty of teams are trying to use the data to improve their players. Yes, it is a competition for the national teams and the time is quite limited for them, however everything falls together,” adds Manchado.
One of the key aspects of the EHF EURO 2022 for the contenders is using data to help players get much-needed rest during the games, so seeing when one goes into the red, tapping into their energy resources is crucial.
France’s Nikola Karabatic played only 75 of the 180 minutes in the preliminary round, getting ready for tougher games in the main round. Not reaching his top form against Russia, Lithuania and Slovakia, the top goal scorer of the EHF EURO 2020, Sander Sagosen, played only 107 minutes for Norway. Mikkel Hansen’s workload of 49 minutes in the preliminary round will surely get higher in Denmark’s next matches.
“Teams have understood how important rest is at this point of the competition and they can see directly, using the data, which is now available, when their players need a rest. Therefore, the data points which are measured can only improve the quality of handball in such a tournament,” adds Manchado.
With teams buying into the strategy, what about the fans?
“They are also interested in data, especially the speed of the shots, measured by the sensors in the iBall. It is always interesting to see the sheer power witnessed during the time in which the balls travels from the hand into the goal translated into numbers. This can really change the experience for the average fan,” says the member of the EHF Methods Commission.
Such a development would have been impossible to grasp a decade ago, but data is now here to stay in handball and it can only help develop the sport in the next years. With teams starting to focus more and more on marginal gains, the limelight will surely be focused on this field.
“The EHF EURO is the most competitive handball competition in the world, with the difference between the teams being always quite small,” Manchado says.
“Therefore, it is quite normal for them to try and beat their opponents with those details that seem insignificant but carry a lot of importance. Bits and pieces of data can be the difference between a win and a loss.”