You know a really good way to get brain damage? Have another human being kick a soccer ball sixty yards really high into the air and then strike it with your head before it falls to the ground. How many times did we see that scenario during the just-completed World Cup, the goalie booming the ball past mid-field and some striker taking one for the team?
The research of soccer players getting CTE is far behind such investigations in American football, and most of the science and tech that has entered the game is more about optimizing immediate performance than impact on long-term health. The 2014 tournament is certainly the one in which technology came of age on a global stage. From “The Science Behind World Cup Success” by Brielle Buis at Sports Illustrated:
“Science has a growing a role in the game, and if used correctly heart rate monitors, GPS trackers, and monitored recovery devices can make player regeneration more efficient. ‘Where many teams struggle is that you can’t half use science and kind of follow it but [also] kind of just go with your gut. It won’t work,’ says [Rutgers exercise science professor Shawn] Arent.
The evidence of teams already using technology can been seen throughout the tournament as players remove their jerseys revealing heart rate monitors strapped around their chests. Whether their teams are using the devices correctly is up for question, but according to Arent, ‘The teams’ knowing that the technology exists is a step in the right direction.’
In order to maximize the benefits of science, according to Arent, coaches need to fully buy into it and bring in a science staff, a performance staff, and a medical staff, because the best coaches in the world are really good at soccer but they aren’t trained in exercise science.
[FC Dallas head coach Oscar] Pareja realized the benefit of heart rate monitors to guide the team’s recovery in Texas, where the heat and humidity play a large role, but the affect of the temperature cannot always be seen by the naked eye. ‘We use heart rate monitors every time we step on the field, tracking the players training loads,’ he says. ‘You can see the difference in the training load data based on the weather and heat.’
In a tournament in which teams play anywhere from three to seven matches, the heart rate monitors could reveal when teams should train on their off days and when they should recover. ‘I’ve realized just as important as training is, recovery is equally as important,’ says Pareja.”