Rio Ferdinand Wants More Tech Investments After Launch Of Train Effective Coaching App

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In previous generations, when professional soccer players were not as well numerated for their services as they are in the present day, it was a sensible idea to contemplate what they would do after retirement.

Management and coaching was a natural step for many former players, while it wasn’t unusual to see ex-pros become teachers or pub landlords.

Becoming an after-dinner speaker or club ambassador was another way to supplement their income.

Life after soccer

However in the Premier League era, academies pay more attention to ensuring young players have an alternative path should they not make the grade (Recently-retired Peter Crouch has a qualification in leisure and tourism), while financially savvy players would invest in fields as diverse as property, horse racing and eSports. Some devout players even become priests or pastors.

After a hugely successful playing career and a reputation as one of England’s greatest ever defenders, Rio Ferdinand would have had no shortage of post-career opportunities after hanging up his boots.

Like many of his peers, Ferdinand has traveled the well-trodden path from playing to punditry. He works on British broadcaster BT Sport’s Premier League and UEFA Champions League coverage, where his enthusiasm for the game is still apparent. This author can assure you that based on a behind-the-scenes studio tour, Ferdinand is just as animated as he appears on BT Sport’s acclaimed ‘No Filter’ series of videos.

Democratizing knowledge

Ferdinand hopes to use this passion for the sport, alongside the experience acquired from a two-decade career as a professional, for his latest venture. Train Effective, founded by Australian Nick Humphries, provides amateur players around the world with training drills and programs devised by UEFA licensed coaches through a mobile application. These drills cover the tactical, technical, physical and mental elements of the game.

Humphries came up with the idea based on his personal experience of being unable to get a contract despite his dedication to the sport. Convinced that the issue was a lack of access to elite coaching, he researched how to coach himself and eventually won a college soccer scholarship, trained with the Australian Under-20 international side, and received professional offers.

“I realized on this journey there were hundreds of millions of people like me out there, registered to play soccer and want to improve but don’t have the necessary knowledge or habits,” he tells me. “Soccer is consumed by half the world’s population but the [elite coaching] is reserved for a tiny percentage of those in academies or professional environments. Train Effective is about bringing professional coaching to the world and democratizing that knowledge.”

Ferdinand’s involvement

Humphries approached Ferdinand’s management team to see if he’d be interested in getting involved with the project By chance, the former Manchester United defender happened to be in the building when Humphries was ready to deliver his pitch.

“I was in the meeting and [Humphries’] pitch, passion and concept resonated with me straight away,” Ferdinand explains. “Most soccer players would love to give something back to the game. [After hearing the pitch] I thought ‘would I have needed this?’ I’ve been on the pathway to becoming a footballer in the park and wondered if this would have benefited me. I decided it would have – 100% yes – and this led to conversations with Nick.”

“I went home and asked my kids how they trained when I wasn’t there, how they get their ideas. They said ‘we go on YouTube’. They were watching anything looked good, so there was no method to the madness. This isn’t efficient and effective and I thought there was a gap in the market for professional, elite coaching, and to give the right advice.”

Future prospects

Ferdinand’s involvement adds a degree of credibility to Train Effective and he is keen to stress he is adding more than just his name to the product, working at all stages of development and creating his own psychological masterclass for the service.

“I’m a business partner and I’m completely invested in it at a personal level,” he says. “[I help] to understand what the user needs and desire for aspiring soccer players to feed off this type of information. I’m involved in product delivery, communication and marketing to consumers. We have regular meetings and we have ideas to flesh out the concept.”

Train Effective is a subscription-based service, with users able to pick from three, six, and 12-month commitments. Humphries expects a bump in the number of users after launch but the real evidence of success will be in how many people maintain their subscription.

In a world where the most dedicated of amateur players are willing to spend not-insignificant sums on new boots and GPS tracking devices, and where self-teaching fitness and language applications are popular, there’s no reason to suggest Train Effective can’t find an audience. However, the company believes it can expand beyond a niche market.

At present, the majority of users are aged between 12 and 18, with the US, Australia, Canada and the UK the largest markets. Humphries believes there is a huge opportunity in other countries where soccer is expanding but the availability of top coaches is limited.

“We have 40% of our users in the U.S. It’s a huge participation sport but there’s a huge gap in coaching as some teams are coached by players’ dads, for example,” he says.

The Chinese government wants the country to be become a world soccer superpower by 2050 and has issued a masterplan to increase the volume and standard of players, referees and facilities across the country. However, China has a coaching deficit and often foreigners are invited to help fill the gap. Humphries views this as an unsustainable model and says these ambitions would be better served by something like Train Effective.

Remote coaching in sports like golf is increasingly popular and although Humphries is aware of the potential for Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR and AR), these would be introduced over a longer-term period.

Tech investments

As for Ferdinand, he’s eager to combine his role at BT Sport with more investments in the technology world. Having witnessed the growing influence of sports science, social media and broadcasting during his career – he once had a digital magazine – he hopes to use his experience elsewhere.

“At the start of my career, science was for the classroom, not for sport!” he quips. “But now sports science is an integral part of the game and the digital world is engrained in sport. I’ve been involved in a few tech projects and it excites me. It’s something I want to be a part of.

“I spent a lot of time with a guy called Saul Clyne to gain experience in the technology space and how different it is from soccer. I’ve done a fair bit of research and I’m ready to invest or to be aligned with more digital companies.”

Ferdinand began his punditry career at BT Sport alongside former England teammates Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, both of whom have been seduced by the prospect of management. So is Ferdinand tempted to follow their lead?

“At the moment it’s not on my agenda,” he states. “I’m not going to coach just one squad. [With Train Effective], I’m going to coach millions of people.”