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Forward Football: laptop trainers on amateur fields


by Leo Aquina | 1 April 2020

"We try to make football better based on scientific insights and performance data", says Beer Flik. "Popularly known as the laptop trainer." In 2015 Flik started Forward Football. Together with the Faculty of Kinesiology at VU University Amsterdam and Sparta, FC Utrecht and a number of amateur clubs, the company works on research and the use of technology to develop new forms of play and training. Forward Football mainly uses technology from China. The company recently released the results of a talent identification survey, and will soon follow up with the results of an 'equal opportunity' survey, examining the effect of selection in youth football. Originally, additional data would be collected, but due to the corona crisis, the results and conclusions of this latter research will be based on the current data set.

ForwardFootball-1Beer Flik has no professional background in football. "I am an entrepreneur and football fanatic. As a player, and coach of my son's team at AFC I am very closely involved and it has always been my nature to improve things based on facts. Measure what matters."

His Forward Football adventure started in China. "Initially, we focused together with Sparta on football development in China, and in schools in particular. As part of that collaboration I came into contact with GenGee, a Chinese company that develops LPM technology (Local Position Measurement, ed.) and sold that technique in China. We became their distributor in Europe."

Accessible technology
According to Flik, GenGee's technology is easily accessible and therefore also ideal for amateur clubs and youth training centres. "Using trackers and a smartball, we can visualize the position of players and the ball, which yields a wealth of interesting data. The system is mobile, unlike more expensive, competitive systems that are often permanently installed in fields, You can put this system up in any field in about twenty minutes. Unique to our system is the ball data. In other systems, cameras are used for this, but that is laborious and expensive. Also, all data is available in real time via an iPad."

"Young players gain more from these systems than established players"

With this technique Forward Football now advises 41 teams and a total of 345 players at 23 clubs. "By using the LPM system in amateur clubs, we can learn a lot about many more players and their talents with the help of our sports scientists. We help clubs to develop a vision based on facts", says Flik. In addition, Forward Football mainly targets young players. They can gain more from these systems than established players."


Flik often encounters resistance in the traditional football world when it comes to new technologies, but that does not stop him. "I have learned to think from the perspective of target groups and not that of your own product. The target group is football, not the trainer. When we started measuring at AFC to study decision-making on the field, we saw those eleven-year old boys coming to look at their data on the iPad. It looks a little like the computer game FIFA. No matter how much I lobby with established trainers, it is the young kids who pick up on it. This makes it an excellent tool in a modern learning environment, just like youth training should be."

"A lot of research is done based on questionnaires. They let boys play 6x6 and ask them afterwards how they liked it. They often tell you what they know you want to hear"

This is precisely why Forward Football, together with the researchers of VU University, focuses on young players to improve football through scientific insights. "A lot of research is done based on questionnaires. They let boys play 6x6 and ask them afterwards how they like it. They often tell you what they know you want to hear. But at the end of the day the outcome is not supported from a football development perspective. By measuring what the players in such games do differently on the field, you can really map out the effects on football and on the development of football skills."


Equal opportunities
At the moment Forward Football and VU University are studying Equal Opportunities at the amateur club HC & FC Victoria 1893 in Loosdrecht. "This is a club with a good training programme and with a youth division playing at a fairly high level. They had been thinking about the chasm between recreational sports and selection for some time", says Flik. "To compare the effects of selection versus Equal Opportunities in the football field, we had selection teams from under 9 play together and in mixed variants with non-selection teams."

"Disappointment and euphoria on the field also have an effect on the actions of players. Those effects are measurable and the results will support your arguments if you want to have that discussion"

Due to the coronavirus, the study could not be completed according to plan because the last test matches had to be cancelled. But the results of this research based on the current data set are used already in, for example, the debate in youth football about the possible abolition of rankings, as recently advocated by KNVB director Jan Dirk van der Zee.

In any case, Flik does not yet have a conclusive answer to the question whether that would be a sensible plan. "But again, I think that not enough attention is paid to the effect on football itself. Disappointment and euphoria on the field also have an effect on the actions of players. Those effects are measurable and the results will support your arguments, if you want to have that discussion."
For more information: Forward Football


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