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Zepp Soccer Tracker App Review

Do you ever feel lazy as you sit on the sideline sipping your coffee and watching your kid race up and down the soccer field? Often I’ll go for a run during their training session or game warmup but I know they’re still getting a far better workout than I am.

No question about it, fitness is an important aspect of soccer. Just look at the stats from our Zepp Soccer dashboard, about 25 miles covered in a few weeks of games.

One year we had a mom who told us that her son really liked the sport of soccer but he just didn’t like to run and was thinking about playing baseball instead. As a soccer coach I hated the thought of having a kid leave the sport but it was hard to argue with her premise, if you don’t like to run then soccer is going to be a challenge. On the flip side, if you really love to play soccer then as you train and play you’ll get in great shape without it feeling like work.

As I researched smart soccer balls I came across a soccer tech article that examined the best soccer tracking devices on the market today. Many of them were expensive but the Zepp Play Soccer tracker caught my eye as one that could be a good option for a youth soccer player – kind of like a Fitbit for soccer. We’ve used it with good results for the last month of the season. It’s been helpful as both a soccer tracking device and also as an interesting way to capture game video.

Soccer Fitness Tracking

As soon as the game’s over and the post-game huddle breaks up my son wants to come over and sync up his wearable soccer tracker with the app on my phone.

How far he ran, how much he sprinted, how many kicks, his fastest sprint are all shown in the game overview.  So far we’ve tracked 11 games and a few training sessions and after each one he’s checking his stats right away.

One of the ways I gauge success for a soccer training session or tool is whether it increases the player’s motivation and excitement for the game. Obviously they should love the game itself and be motivated to play hard simply because they enjoy it – but it doesn’t hurt to give them extra things to get excited about. This soccer tracker definitely does that for my kids.

In addition to being just a neat gadget this wearable does give the player some interesting things to think about in terms of their soccer fitness. As you can see the app shows the numbers for individual games and also a summary in the user’s profile across all games.

The numbers for one game alone are interesting but they tell you more when you use it over a season and can compare one game to your typical performance. Of course every game is different with varying amounts of playing time per match, potentially different positions played, and unique game flow depending on the opponent. So you’re not getting apples to apples across games but it does give you a baseline and the more games you use it for the more useful the data is.

Here are a few ways the tracker can help players set goals & improve:

Improving Weak Foot

How many times have you heard coaches and parents groan as a player receives a ball in a dangerous attacking position but then take the time to shift the ball off their weak foot and end up missing their opportunity? Putting a tracker on both the left and right leg will show the difference in the dominance of one foot for most players. We haven’t done that yet but have another tracker on the way.

One of the challenges of getting your kid to use their weak foot is that they perform worse in training or games when they use it. A shanked shot or a weak or off target pass frustrates them and their teammates and they make a mental note to use their strong foot the next time. Basically the benefits of using their weak foot aren’t obvious, the motivation to use it is low.

However, if you can track how much they use each foot at training and in games then they do have a reason to use their weak foot. They can look at their stats over time and see the percentage of that weak foot climb.  Now setting a goal to “use your left foot” more is trackable and rewardable.

Moving Off the Ball

I know my son’s coach will point out when a player makes a pass then stands there and watches the kid they passed it to rather than continuing their run and staying in the play. Good soccer players spend a lot of the game moving without the ball, getting in good positions to setup the next play when their team is in possession.

Studies of players at the highest levels have shown that during a 90 minute soccer game most players only have the ball at their feet a small percentage of the overall game. What they should be doing when they don’t have the ball but their team does is getting into a position to help with the next play. Usually that doesn’t mean standing still or walking, it means moving.

So we compared the amount of time walking to the amount of time running for the 11 games we tracked so far. As you can see it was a range from 21-34% with an average 27% of the time spent walking in a game. One rough way to track whether a player is moving off the ball is to see if they can get that percentage of time walking reduced each game.  Of course time spent defending impacts the total but even on defense players should be moving to keep the shape of their formation even if they’re not directly involved in actively defending.

You can see why just tracking one game isn’t that helpful but looking at numbers across a group of games can show players where they can improve.  You also want to use percentages when doing your comparison because the actual units will vary between each game.

Effort in Training

How many time have you dropped your daughter or son off at practice and said “play hard” as they climb out of the car? Some kids don’t need any motivation to go hard during practice but some players could use it. It’s hard to compare effort at practice based only on these numbers because each training session is different.  A kid could get way more or much less movement than previous practices just based on what the coach is working on.

This is where it would be great to have each kid wearing one so you could compare effort for the same practice relative to the other players but most of us won’t have that opportunity. Even though varying practices mean it’s not a perfect measure of effort from week to week it can still be a general measure of how hard your kid is working at practice. Let’s face it, even just knowing that they’re wearing the tracker and being measured can motivate them to work harder.

Soccer Game Video

Another neat aspect of the Zepp Play Soccer device and app is the game video functionality.  We didn’t get it because of that feature but it’s been kind of useful and fun.

During each game you track you can open the video function of the app and capture highlights of the game. The clips are only 10 seconds long so its not a full game recording. After you take a clip you can tag it with what you just captured.

The options available to choose from are:

  • Goal
  • Shot
  • Dribble
  • Pass
  • Defense
  • Save
  • Opponent Goal
  • Yellow Card
  • Red Card
  • Other

Room for Improvement

I do like that you can mark a video with a tag describing what you captured but I think it’s missing some tags like:

  • Offsides
  • Tackle
  • Free kick
  • Cross

I know that Tackle is part of Defense and Cross could be a Pass but it would be nice if we could be more specific with the tags. Even better, it would be great if we could assign the videos our own tags.

Another thing I’d improve about the video part of the app is to have a “Discard” option. So after taking a video clip, instead of tagging and saving it you could just Discard it.  A great example is when play stops for a free kick and you press the record button to capture the shot.  If the whistle is delayed by the ref moving back a wall and you stop recording you don’t want to keep that video around, Discard would be perfect.

Video Highlights

One of the cool things about the video app is that it allows you to easily create a highlight video. It actually creates one for you automatically from each game using several of the videos you took but I haven’t used that default one very often.  You can go back and select the videos you’d like to include to create another highlight reel, which is nice.  The best way I’ve found to make one is to filter the videos based on the tag and then include all films of a certain event. For example, here’s one we created using the Goals tag.

Obviously it’s not a professionally edited video compilation but what’s neat about it is that the highlight video is really easy to create and share.  As busy soccer parents we have too many pictures and videos that don’t see the light of day. It’s nice to be able to quickly create and share video highlights – it automatically adds the little intro with the date/time and game score.  I’ve noticed some of them actually add the fitness stats at the end of the video as well, not sure sure what I configured to make it do that.

Game Timeline

Another cool feature of the app is that it creates a timeline of all the videos you take. So as you scroll through the videos if you’re looking for a play you remember happened in the second half you can use the timeline to find it more easily.

As you can see in the screenshot it lists the video and the time into the match it was taken. Another useful feature of the timeline is that when you start the game in your app you can actually share the URL of the timeline with others.

So if there are folks who can’t be at the game they can follow along on your timeline.  The Zepp soccer app uploads the videos into the cloud from your phone so the timeline isn’t updated in realtime.  It is limited by how fast your phone can upload the videos but in my tests the timeline updated pretty quickly.  If a parent or grandparent can’t make the game they can usually follow the score on an app like TeamSnap but this is neat because it has the video highlights they can see as well.

After the game you can access the videos on your phone or also in your member area of the Zepp website. One thing I don’t like is that when you’re looking at a video on the website you can’t easily go to the next video, you have to close it and then open the next. I wish it just had a “Next Video” button kind of like you can do when watching videos uploaded into your Google Drive.

The other thing I wish you could do is delete videos that you no longer want either via the app or website but I haven’t been able to figure out a way to do that. Another item I’d add to the video wishlist would be the ability to make highlight videos across multiple games. For example, it would be great if you could make a highlight video of all the events tagged Goal across a series of games.

Soccer Tracker App Setup

One thing to note after purchasing the Zepp Soccer tracker is that you need to give it a full charge before using it the first time.  This can be tricky if a kid gets it and wants to use the tracker right away.  You could even open it up, charge it, and then put it back in the package before giving it to them. I think it took ours a few hours to charge that first time.

It also comes with a Left and Right sticker to help you remember which device goes with which leg if you have two. Once the device is charged you can open up the Zepp Play Soccer app on your phone and pair the tracker with your app. There’s a QR code on the back of the device that you scan and that pairs it with your phone. You slide the device into the leg sleeve that’s also included in the box, it has two different sizes so the tracker can be used for youth or adults.

DO NOT wash the leg sleeve with the tracker inside. We made that mistake, the leg sleeve accidentally went into the wash with the device in it and we learned the tracker is not washing machine friendly.  We contacted the folks at Zepp and they gave us a discount on a replacement tracker but it was a bummer having to spend that money and not end up with two, one for the left and one for the right.

 

Soccer Tracking

To get started you select “Quick Game” in the app, enter your game info, and click the “I Am Ready” button. At that point it looks for the device and once located you’re able to start the game.

When we played 9v9 the phone could detect the tracker all the way on the other side of the field first try. At the end of the season he guest played in an 11v11 tournament so I was farther away from him when the game started. I had to hit refresh a few times in the app to get it to connect to the device but then it was off an running.

The soccer tracker doesn’t update the data real time from the device to the phone during the game. After the game is over you indicate it’s finished in the app and it syncs the data from the device into your phone.

There’s also the ability to start a training session in the app, they call it a “Practice”. You can actually start both a team practice or a team game if there are multiple kids on your team that have the soccer tracker but we haven’t tested out that functionality yet.

Overall I’d say it’s been a great investment for our son’s soccer experience. As I mentioned, the more games and training you use it for the more valuable the fitness tracking data becomes. He likes it because it’s a cool gadget and he loves going through the stats after each game. What would be really great would be getting other kids on his team to use it so he could “compete” against them for things like weak foot usage and time spent moving w/out the ball. Although until we have other teammates using the tracker it’s great that he can compete against himself and work to beat his own metrics. The video features have also been nice for a busy soccer parent for organizing soccer clips and making highlight videos to share.

Get one for both the right and left foot in our “No Weak Foot” package.

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DribbleUp Makes Your Kids Want to Practice More?

If a professional soccer player told your kid to work on their weak foot, would they do it? One lucky Tuesday night in September a few years back we skipped out of practice a bit early for an autograph session with MLS defender Chance Myers. His tip to my son, “work on your weak foot”.

Myers went on to play in 27 games that season for Sporting Kansas City. He started and played all game for each of the five playoff matches and put away his PK in the MLS Cup final against RSL to help Sporting KC win the MLS cup. So you’d think a kid would listen to advice from a player like that…

Getting a kid to work on their weak foot isn’t easy. Like many fundamental skills in sports it takes a lot of repetition to fine tune. As soccer legend Dennis Bergkamp describes in his “Stillness and Speed” book some 8 year olds enjoy that repetition of just working on their touch – but who are we kidding, most kids aren’t Dennis Bergkamp.

Those regular repeated touches are so important to building technical skills but for a lot of players they just aren’t much fun and the whole point of playing soccer when you’re a kid is to have fun.

Making Training a Game

In general youth players enjoy playing in a game over simply doing technical work. The ability to make technical training feel like a game makes it a lot easier to get kids to work on those fundamentals.  That’s why our experiments with the DribbleUp smart soccer ball have been so encouraging – our kids don’t even blink when the Left Foot Circuit or Left Foot Advanced playlist comes up on the screen!

This latest session of DribbleUp took the game element to a new level.  The iPhone mirroring cable that I mentioned in the last post arrived and turned the footskills training into a night of family fun! As you can see from the picture, even the family dog got involved.

 

Obviously we shooed the dog away but the reason she was hanging around was that all my kids were in the living room doing DribbleUp. My two oldest would take turns hopping in and out of the playlists and the youngest just liked to be in the background so she could watch herself on TV.

It reminded me quite a bit of the scene when our kids play Wii sports – all huddled around the TV giving words of encouragement and waiting for their chance to jump in. We spent quite a while with the smart ball that night because the app kept the kids wanting more:

  • Unlocking Drills
  • Completing Homework
  • Earning Points
  • Earning Badges
  • Advancing on the Leaderboard

These were all things that kept the kids wanting to play for “just 5 more minutes”. As you can see in the pictures as they advanced up the levels the color of the ball tracker changes.

It starts off blue and once you get to the next level it turns purple. If you want green you have to earn enough points to level up.

Every time we’d advance to the next level a collective cheer would come from all the kids, pretty funny.

Leaderboard

Adding the element of competition can be a good way to motivate people to work harder and it seems to work well for DribbleUp. My kids love checking the leaderboard to see how they were doing in relation to other players were training with the smart ball.

I’m not exactly sure what the logic is for positioning players on the leaderboard because you’ll see people with lower levels above users with higher achievement levels. It seems there’s some weight added for recent training which seems to make sense in terms of encouraging players to use it more often.

As you can see in the screenshot the user ttillette is on Level 16 but perhaps hasn’t used the app in a while so Soccer_Stripes user appears higher on the leaderboard. Once more players start using the smart ball and moving up the achievement levels I imagine the player ranking will make more sense. I honestly don’t care too much about the algorithm b/c what matters isn’t actually your spot on the list but that the leaderboard motivates my kids to work harder. The one thing to be careful of for the DribbleUp app is making the ranking rules too hard to understand because that could discourage players who don’t understand why they’re not moving up the leaderboard despite working hard at training.

 

Leveling Up

The app has a series of levels you can achieve based on how many points you earn from going through a playlist.  The number of points you earn is based on how well you perform your skills. As I mentioned before, each Playlist is broken down into multiple skills like “Side Taps”, “Ball Steps”, “Sole Flicks”, etc.

After you finish the playlist you’re given a score for how you performed each skill, A-F.  It’s actually been tough for my kids to get a high score. I talked to the folks at DribbleUp and the scoring right now is based on how a professional player would execute the move. This obviously makes it tough for a 9 year old to get an A because they won’t have the same technical expertise as a pro player. The plan is to add a multiple levels (like Easy, Medium, Hard) so a player can be tested based on their current level.

As you can see the number of points you earn is based on your overall playlist score. In this case they got a C which earned them 261 points.  We did have the bad luck of running into a bug with the Slapcut Squirt drill that earned us Negative Infinity points.  As you would expect that zeroed out their points so they were back to level 1. Needless to say they went to bed quite unhappy that night. Luckily they’ve gotten that bug fixed since then.

As you get more points and move up the levels you unlock Badges in the Awards section of the app. My son really like that part of it but so far it seems like it’s too easy to unlock levels. He was able to move from Level 2 to Level 6 in one night of training.

Granted we did spend quite a bit of time doing DribbleUp last night, probably more than the average user would spend in a typical footskills session.  It is cool how the color of the tracker changes as you move up levels, just a visual indication that you’re making progress.

It could be that the higher in levels you go, the more points you need to advance to the next level.  I haven’t really paid attention to that but it would make sense that the difficulty would increase as you move up. I do like the point system because even if you don’t get an A on a playlist you still get some credit for working at it.

Frustrations

Our biggest complaint about the app is still that the tracking isn’t perfect. I talked to the DribbleUp team after our last session and they pointed out that the lighting can play a part in difficulties in tracking.

If you have a bright light in the background it can throw off the tracking so it’s not consistent. The majority of our time spent using the app has been inside and we do have a lamp in the background which could be causing some of our frustrations. You can usually tell if it’s going to be an issue for a playlist immediately after you scan the ball. If the virtual cones are quick to jump from green to red, or if they start red then you know the scan had an issue.

We learned that if you tap the screen there’s an option to Pause or Quit the playlist. So whenever we saw red cones right away we’d quit and re-scan the ball.

Other than that, the app has been fantastic! As we use it I’ve been sending notes to the team at DribbleUp and it’s been neat to see our feature suggestions and bug fixes start popping up in the app.

As the chill of winter approaches and Daylight Savings Time gets closer to stealing our light in the evenings after school I really think DribbleUp will got a lot of use in the cold winter months.