Intensive training sessions and the disappointments that come with losing competitions are just some of the many stressors that form an integral part of an athlete’s career. Failure to recover fully from such stressors renders an athlete vulnerable to physical injury or mental dips. That’s where resilience comes in. Resilience is vital to athletes’ ability to stay fit and perform well. Vital it may be, but it is also notoriously difficult to define. Over the next few years, researchers from the University of Groningen and the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG) will be researching this elusive quality in cooperation with other organizations, including three professional football clubs (FC Groningen, PSV and Vitesse), the University of Leiden, the Jheronimus Academy of Data Science and the HAN University of Applied Sciences. The Sport and Exercise research programme of the Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development (ZonMw) has awarded the project a subsidy of € 750,000. The total budget is a little over € 1.2 million.
FC Groningen, PSV and Vitesse collect players’ physical and mental data on a daily basis. As part of the new research project, this data will be fed into a data platform and automatically analysed. ‘This analysis gives individual athletes – and their coaches – insight into their physical and mental resilience. On the basis of that insight, a coach might decide to adjust the training sessions, say, to avoid a player developing physical or mental problems,’ explains lead applicant and project manager Dr Ruud den Hartigh of the University of Groningen. ‘This project brings together the latest knowledge in the fields of psychology, human movement science and data science.’
The choice to work with FC Groningen, PSV and Vitesse was not arbitrary. These three clubs already have an advanced infrastructure in place that allows them to measure their players’ physical and mental data daily using apps, cameras on the sidelines and sensors worn by players during training sessions and matches, etc. Within this project, Dr Wouter Frencken, Head of Performance at FC Groningen, is tasked with coordinating the measurements at FC Groningen and the contact with the clubs. ‘We measure practically every move that players make on the field, and we also measure how they feel before and after training sessions and matches. It’s often difficult for experts on the field to ascertain how an individual player is doing mentally and physically, and whether we need to adjust their programme. But now, we are able to gauge resilience more accurately, which in turn helps us to provide our players with even better support.’
Den Hartigh believes that the insights that this project generates will have a much broader application. Outside the world of football, the use of sensors to monitor movement is becoming more common, as is the availability of apps that people can use to indicate how they are feeling. ‘Once we have gained a better understanding of what determines a top footballer’s resilience and how it can be improved, we can also work on the resilience of people in other sports and indeed in daily life in general.’ After this project, the insights obtained can then also be applied to elite sport, grassroots sport and beyond.
The official title of the project is ‘Resilient athletes: A multidisciplinary personalized approach’. Project leader Dr Ruud den Hartigh’s team comprises researchers from the Sport Science Institute Groningen, including Prof. Nico van Yperen, Dr Ando Emerencia and Prof. Peter de Jonge from the department of Psychology within the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences and Prof. Koen Lemmink and Dr Michel Brink from the Center for Human Movement Sciences at the UMCG. The research team is working with a broader consortium, comprising the Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science (University of Leiden), the Jheronimus Academy of Data Science, HAN University of Applied Sciences, FC Groningen, PSV, Vitesse, the Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB), national sports organization NOC*NSF, the Sport Data Center , the Sport Science Institute Groningen and Sportinnovator Centrum Groningen.
Two fulltime PhD students, two part-time postdocs and a practice-based researcher have been assigned to this two-year project. ‘Resilient athletes: A multidisciplinary personalized approach’ was one of eight proposals honoured by ZonMw under the Sport and Exercise research programme.
Dr. Ruud den Hartigh, Assistant Professor Talent Development and Creativity
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