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New simulation game helps sports coaches with their strategy

A two-year, pan-European research project has developed an online game which helps players develop their real-world sports coaching strategy and tactics by selecting, training and coaching players in a virtual team
28 October 2013

The EU-funded project set out to explore game-based learning and reinforcement techniques in sport. It has involved sports and fitness experts, trainers, athletes and gamers from seven European R&D institutes and universities.

The 'Serious Sports' partnership culminates with a conference to be held at London South Bank University later this month with speakers including prominent sports scientists, experts and coaches in football, basketball, tennis, swimming and taekwondo.

"Computer games today can offer more than just entertainment for bored teenagers," says Dr Katya Mileva, a research scientist in London South Bank University's Sport & Exercise Science Research Centre.

"As technology in games has advanced, so too has their value to society and education. The seven partners aspired to develop 'serious game' technology to help support and train sports professionals by offering them the opportunity to simulate physical conditioning, training content and structure in different seasons for a European-wide sport."

The project has examined competencies in existing sports games—ranging from the physical, like Wii Fit, to the cognitive, such as Football Manager—and developed an online game to help amateur sports coaches learn scientifically-sound coaching fundamentals through their own virtual team.

The Serious Sports project is part of a wider sea change in how computer games are perceived. Wii Fit is oft-cited as a game-changer and in their book 'Football Manager Stole My Life', Iain Macintosh, Kenny Millar and Neil White detail the national obsession with Football Manager—famed for its diehard players, realism and destroying social lives—in which players train and develop a 'real' team. John Boileau famously applied for a management job at vacant Middlesbrough in 2006 citing his vast experience of the game.

The project's current iteration is being piloted across Europe with basketball players and coaches, educators and gamers, with a view to potentially developing a suite of similar games for other sports. Players can access information on exercises and tactics via videos, animations and in-game messages and a player's team can be played against others in a league, earning awards and achievements.

As the leading sports partner on the project, London South Bank University is currently involved with the prototype evaluation of the game by sportsmen and sports practitioners through its links with national sports governing bodies, sports educators and professional clubs. The project has also involved LSBU sports science students.

"The LSBU team have been instrumental in the development of the theoretical framework for the game," explains Dr Mileva. "By actively involving LSBU students on the Sports and Exercise Science and Sports Coaching and Analysis undergraduate courses, we aim to help them develop professionally-relevant skills through game-based learning—demonstrating the potential of this research."

Along with Dr Mileva, the project has involved John Seeley, Steve Hunter and Dave Cook from London South Bank University's Sport & Exercise Science Research Centre as well as Andy Powlesland from LSBU's Academy of Sport.

The Serious Sports project was funded by a €320,000 grant from the European Commission. A group of specially-selected institutes from across Europe were chosen for their expertise in sports, digital games and instructional design. In the project London South Bank University (UK) collaborated with: Cork Institute of Technology (Ireland, managing partner); FH Joanneum (Austria); University of Oulu (Finland); Semmelweis University (Hungary); Scienter (Italy); and Simsoft (Turkey).

Launch conference, 18 October

A gratis one-day conference, 'Technology and Sports Coaching', will discuss to what extent technology enhances sports coaching—and to what extent it might interfere with traditional coaching skills.

The conference is hosted at London South Bank University on Thursday 17 October, 10am–5pm.

Speakers include Dr Karl Cooke, head of sports science and medicine for British Swimming; Dr Laszlo Németh, a national and professional league basketball coach; Professor Barry Drust, sports science consultant to national and premier league football; Darragh Coakley, from Cork Institute of Technology; and Dr David Cook, Norway's national taekwondo coach.

Learn more about LSBU's Sport & Exercise Science Research Centre