The Helix: training TSG-style

10 May 2019 – What if footballers could be taught not only to run faster, but to think more quickly too? Could further improvements be made by training the mind as well as the body? TSG 1899 Hoffenheim is proving this with their innovative training methods: Having already successfully deployed Visionup Strobe Glasses to enhance the performance of their goalkeepers, the Bundesliga club are again pushing the boundaries of sports science by improving players’ reaction times on the pitch through the use of custom-built technology: the Helix.

Previously, there was no way of measuring a footballer’s executive functions and how quickly they reacted to certain stimuli. Hoffenheim, however, believed the scope of such analysis could be expanded into other areas and began digging a bit deeper. After a few basic tests showed that this was possible, they set about customising a prototype that would mirror real-time match scenarios that players would face. Working in conjunction with club sponsor SAP, the multinational software corporation, Hoffenheim developed the Helix, the first machine of its kind in the world, built specifically to train the cognitive processes of athletes.

The Helix is a training video game that uses a giant screen that curves 180 or 270 degrees around the participating player. Six projectors cast different images onto the screen, prompting the player to react as quickly as possible to unfolding scenarios that test their cognitive abilities. In one situation, for example, eight animated players appear on screen. Can the subject then follow the runs made by four of them – two teammates and two opponents – and remember these at the end?

TSG 1899 Hoffenheim’s sports psychologist Dr. Jan Mayer / Credit: TSG 1899 Hoffenheim

20 May 2020 – Today (Wednesday), the DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga announced the exact schedule for the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 matches until the end of the current 2019/20 season. This involved the schedule of matchdays 30, 31 and 32. On matchday 33, all matches of the Bundesliga will be played simultaneously on Saturday, 20 June, and all matches of the Bundesliga 2 will be played simultaneously on Sunday, 21 June. At the season finale on matchday 34, all matches in the Bundesliga will take place simultaneously on Saturday, 27 June, and in the Bundesliga 2, they will take place simultaneously on Sunday, 28 June. Matches in both leagues kick off on matchdays 33 and 34 at 3:30 p.m.

In the Bundesliga, there are still a few matches to come this season where teams in the upper third of the table will face each other. For example, on Saturday, 6 June, Bayer 04 Leverkusen will encounter FC Bayern München. A week later, on Saturday, 13 June, Borussia Mönchengladbach will be playing away at FC Bayern München. On matchday 33, RB Leipzig will play Borussia Dortmund.

The match between SV Werder Bremen and Eintracht Frankfurt from matchday 24 has also been rescheduled. This was cancelled as a result of the UEFA Europa League match of Eintracht Frankfurt in Salzburg being postponed and will now take place on Wednesday, 3 June.

Starting on matchday 30, there will still be some duels in the Bundesliga 2 in the fight for promotion to the Bundesliga, among other things. On matchday 33, for example, 1. FC Heidenheim 1846 will host Hamburger SV; a week later, the current table leader, DSC Arminia Bielefeld, will come up against Heidenheim. Before that, on matchday 31, there will be the derbies between 1. FC Nürnberg and SpVgg Greuther Fürth (Saturday, 13 June) as well as between Karlsruher SC and VfB Stuttgart (Sunday, 14 June).

In the Bundesliga 2, the match on matchday 28 between Bielefeld and SG Dynamo Dresden has been postponed. This is to allow SG Dynamo preparation time of at least one week before the first regular season game after the coronavirus-related interruption of fixtures following the quarantine measures that were imposed by the Dresden health authorities on the entire professional squad. The match against Bielefeld will now take place on Monday, 15 June. Meanwhile, the encounters of matchday 26 between Hannover 96 and Dresden (Wednesday, 3 June) and matchday 27 between Dresden and Fürth (Tuesday, 9 June), which had already been postponed due to the imposed quarantine, have been rescheduled. As a result of these matches being rescheduled, two mid-week matches (instead of one) will take place by way of exception on Thursday of matchday 32 in the Bundesliga 2.

The current fixtures can be downloaded here:

‘No ball is used in the tests, as the purpose is to train mental rather than physical capabilities,’ says Dr Jan Mayer, Hoffenheim’s sports psychologist. ‘It’s about seeing if a player can make the right decision in stressful, real-life situations that require the highest levels of concentration.’

Helix 2.0 is now in the pipeline, an updated version with a screen extended to 360 degrees to provide a completely immersive environment. A similar test could also be conducted using virtual reality glasses, but that would restrict the players’ scope of vision, not to mention the fact that, in a match situation, they wouldn’t be wearing the glasses. The Helix simulates reality the best – this idea that emerged not from academia, but from a football coach with a burning sense of curiosity.

TSG 1899 Hoffenheim goalkeepers Baumann (front) and Stolz (back) / Credit: TSG 1899 Hoffenheim

20 May 2020 – The Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 will pay tribute to the victims of the coronavirus pandemic before the next games on matchdays 27 and 28. The teams will also take to the field with black armbands. “The spread of the coronavirus has already taken many lives throughout the world. German professional football would like to unanimously express its condolences on the next two match days,” says Christian Seifert, Speaker of the Executive Committee of the DFL: “At the same time, the utmost appreciation and gratitude go to all those who work tirelessly in the fight against the effects of the pandemic in medicine, care, supply, politics and many other areas in our country.”

 It was a coach who asked me if it might be possible to make the players faster, not at running, but in their thinking, so that they could analyse match situations more quickly and made decisions faster,’ revealed Dr Mayer. ‘It shows that innovative ideas aren’t only unearthed at universities, but sometimes emerge directly from the football field too.’