On the Ball – Cees Vervoorn
“Football is public property. Everyone has an opinion about it, and everyone thinks something of it.” So does Cees Vervoorn (1960). According to the current Chief Science Officer of the Knowledge Centre for Sport & Physical Activity in the Netherlands, football needs a revamp.
On the Ball – A chat about sports and football innovation, transferring knowledge into practice and the possibilities of tools like JOGO, the data-driven football development platform.
When it comes to sports innovation, Vervoorn is the right man to talk to. He is a true authority on the matter. “I’ve spent my whole life turning knowledge into practice”, he says from his couch via a virtual conversation. “As a trainer-coach at the highest level (Vervoorn was among others trainer of HvA volleyball, ed.), in my study of Human Movement Sciences, and at the NOC*NSF. There I even had it in my portfolio: the scientific support of athletes, coaches, and programs. Of course, I also did it for twenty years at the Hogeschool van Amsterdam (HvA, as director of the ALO, dean and lecturer, ed.) and currently in my role as Chief Science Officer at the Knowledge Centre for Sport & Physical Activity.”
‘In Football, there is still much to be gained’
But while knowledge and innovation are always on top of Vervoorn’s mind, this is rarely the case in the football community. In the beautiful game, it’s conservatism that reigns—the result of the fact that everyone has an opinion about football, according to Vervoorn. “Look, football is public property. Everyone has an opinion about it, and everyone thinks something about it. That’s exactly why innovations often fail to take root”, he explains. “In many ways, football is still a field in which there is much to be gained. Especially in terms of the implementation of knowledge. And not only in youth development. In that regard, the way the conservative football world looks down on so-called ‘laptop trainers’ illustrates how it thinks about innovation. Of course, there are top clubs that look further, but that should happen a lot more across the board.”
Vervoorn sees in all this an important role for data. According to him, that’s the future of football. “The famous concept of ‘personal medicine’, medication applied to the individual based on personal needs and data, is something that is also more and more practiced in sport. This approach is considered the best way for players to build a career”, he says while leaning back on his couch. “Individualised training – personalized training and coaching through data collection – is the next level. Also, in football. The challenge for the trainer is then to convert all that data for optimal physical preparation into a team concept that also produces wins. The eleven most fit players don’t make the best team.”
‘JOGO brings football closer to the child with dreams’
In that sense, JOGO brings the football future that Vervoorn describes in the now. The revolutionary talent development platform, consisting of an app and web version (trainer dashboard), is all about data usage in football development to help youth footballers with personalised training but also to actualise their qualities. “The more tools you have as a club and trainer to evaluate and measure the development curve of young footballers objectively, the more you do justice to their qualities. Same for their potential careers”, motivates Vervoorn. “With JOGO, one can look objectively at the development of kids. Therefore, I am convinced that it will positively impact youth and talent development in football.”
JOGO makes Vervoorn’s ‘innovation heart’ beat faster. “The tool uses the technical functionalities of the mobile phone to help football move forward—the youth footballers can boost their performance and coaches can guide them better”, he observes with a distinct satisfaction in his voice. “That’s also what makes JOGO so interesting. In combination with the ambition to use data to visualise the physical and technical as well as the cognitive aspect of a footballer, it will give a complete view of a young player and his development curve.”
“Many children these days have access to a mobile phone. JOGO gives all the kids who dream of becoming the next Messi a chance to become better players in their home environment”, Vervoorn continues. “Through the app, they get professional advice, are truly seen, and their results are stored in the database. Trainers can even use it as a homework tool. With this, JOGO brings football closer to the child with dreams. Even to the kids who have talent but not the right environment to flourish. Every extra hour that someone invests in his development pays off in the long run, and that’s what one can do with the JOGO app—in a responsible, science-based way.”
Practice makes perfect
The motto ‘practice makes perfect’ is always valid on the road to the top. Vervoorn speaks out of his own experience as a former three-time Olympian Swimmer. “To get the most out of your talent as a player and excel, you need a good basis. You can create such a basis by repetitively training certain techniques, such as shooting and passing. For example, I used to train around 25 hours a week to master the complex three-dimensional swimming movement”, he explains. “The training exercises in the JOGO app give you the option to do the necessary training load individually at any given time— in addition to regular training sessions.”
But doesn’t such an approach kill the creativity of a football player?! It’s a much-heard criticism of which Vervoorn is not afraid. He thinks that tools like JOGO give clubs and academies the chance to allow players to use their full potential even more. “When you know as a trainer that the technique is there for creative outbursts, you can organize your sessions in other ways: more focused on the development of such aspects than is currently the case. Moreover, the player can specifically train all the qualities that distinguish him as a footballer because the basis is good.”
‘JOGO is also interesting for other ball sports’
Vervoorn also sees JOGO as a helpful development tool for other ball sports.“With the mobile camera, you can follow the ball and register many important skills such as dribbling and passing. Like in football, JOGO can be used to strengthen the basis, so someone can train and showcase his talent. With or without a trainer, and in the situation that suits one best.”