Building Winning Teams: A Conversation with Jose Ramon Capdevila Xam-Mar

Real Madrid FC Head of Football Administration, Jose Ramón Capdevila Xam-Mar, has joined Veebit to head up Corporate Strategy. He played an important role in the club’s recent success, both on and off the pitch, and knows firsthand how to build winning teams. I sat down with him to discuss the evolving role of technology and performance analytics in professional sports and the launch of veebitSPORT.

You spent over a decade in senior executive roles at Real Madrid, arguably the most successful football club in the world.  What makes Real Madrid so successful?

At Real Madrid we focus on maximizing value and return on investment. We put a lot of thought and effort behind finding the right players to fit with the club’s culture and fulfill our overriding mission, to win trophies and entertain our fans. We also partner with the best sponsors who enhance our global brand and we embrace innovative technologies to provide the best facilities. This gives Real Madrid a competitive advantage over our opponents, and provides the best opportunity to win.

To what extent has innovation and technology played a role in evolving the sports industry in recent years?

Innovation in technology and analytics has had a huge impact on professional sports.  In every area, from facility management to fan engagement, and of course in the area of performance analytics.

Sports organizations are increasingly aware of the benefits of using analytics in the recruitment and day-to-day management of their athletes. The industry is immersed in a self-education process to understand, identify and implement technologies that will benefit team performance.

For instance, two of the main technology trends in the sports performance sector are the use of wearables and VR devices.  By 2020 it is expected that the market for smart wearable devices will be valued at $34 billion, representing 411 million smart wearable devices.  The VR industry is also huge, with an expectation that 96 million VR sets will be sold by 2020.

Used to track and train around physical, tactical and technical variables, these tools generate a huge amount of data that has the potential to inform actual game day performance. But there’s almost more technology – and more data – than teams know what to do with at the moment.  

The collection of data on physical attributes is only the first step. Analyzing these data points and determining which are actually relevant to performance, be it directly or indirectly as a contributor to overall health and skill development, is key to realizing actionable results.  The emerging growth in sports analytics represents this opportunity – the market is projected to be valued at $4.7 billion by 2021, up by over 35x from 2014 levels.

So in your assessment, what are the next frontiers in performance analytics that will drive innovation and help sports organizations gain the 1% competitive edge?

So we have a preponderance of data, new technologies and opportunities for gaining insight into player performance – so much so that it can overwhelm even the smartest organizations. Sports analytics is no different than any other industry: there’s currently a frenzy to collect data, and now it’s imperative to determine which datasets are actually meaningful and actionable.

After analyzing the major technology and innovation trends in sports, I see significant focus taking shape around the athlete’s conscious and subconscious mind, and how these inputs can impact performance and capacity to achieve success in such a tremendously competitive environment.  

In spite of the impressive degree of innovation focused on physical performance, there still exists no real evidence-based method for understanding player mentality.  Understanding the inner mental game and how it contributes to success is a missing link.  This is what excites me about Veebit.

We have developed a product for the sports market, veebitSPORT, that brings to bear our psychometric measurement expertise, and leverages big data and predictive analytics.  How do you see this as a benefit to sports organizations?

veebitSPORT will be revolutionary in helping teams identify and analyze the likelihood for athletes to become professional and successful human beings while giving the players self-awareness about the traits that will be challenging in their lives during their professional sports careers.

The priority for mighty football clubs is to put the most competitive team on the field every match.  The main objective is to maximize performance on the pitch, which only happens with the best players available being signed for your team. 

Sport teams have two main areas to manage: financial and competitive. These two issues are strongly correlated, as teams need to increase revenues every year so as to be able to bring resources to invest in the competitive area so as to develop new professional athletes within the team’s DNA.

So it’s not just about identifying top performers, but is a direct financial imperative as well? Why is efficient recruiting so important?

Teams are trying to recruit the next top players at the youngest age possible in order to have a positive impact on their P&L in the future, either from not having to invest money on millionaire transfer fees as they will have been already developed internally, or by profiting from selling that player to another team when the player is already under a professional contract.

You can see this pressure in the number of scouts attending matches and watching players from age 8 up through professional teams.  It brings a significant responsibility to the scout’s role, since teams need to identify the best available talent in the market so they can predict which players will generate professional contracts in the future.

What is the importance of evaluating mental traits when evaluating a player and which traits are desirable?

We can look to existing successful players to answer that question. Two of the main traits to be considered are ambition and emotional intelligence, which should be accompanied by early mental maturity. It means these players need to be very focused when they are young and be prepared for a very demanding process as they grow.

Veebit delivers a tool that helps in this process, identifying these traits according to excellence standards culled from existing professional players.  We build psychometric profiles that accompany players in their educational process, identifying mental traits and patterns that should be managed to help them grow as players and win.

With veebitSPORT we are able to identify both the direct traits and catalytic traits that contribute to athletic performance as well as mental toughness and cultural fit to the way a specific team plays and wins. 

Which is why we have designed veebitSPORT to correlate to decision-making along the entire player life cycle.

Yes, to add significant clarity and actionable analytics to three critical areas.  

Beginning with recruitment: currently teams cannot predict the success of individual players, and transfer fees are only increasing every year. By revealing how well a player might fit with a team, grow in skills and approach the challenges of a given scenario or season, veebitSPORT supports making smarter picks during recruitment and so will save teams money in the long run.

Throughout a player’s growth, veebitSPORT analytics can reveal and help track the most important factors for success beyond physical ability: the player’s mental skills and strengths, which can be capitalized on, and vulnerabilities that he or she can be trained  to overcome. This allows teams to develop players from the very beginning according to their particular training goals and to align the player to their team’s DNA.  

The final component is related to integrating a player into the team. Adding a new player into your lineup can affect your team’s performance greatly, for better or worse. All of veebitSPORT’s functionality lets you recruit and develop great players, but we also help you shape your team.

By using our psychometric analytics to identify how players of different mental types will interact – whether they’re superstars or solid team-focused collaborators – teams can make smart decisions on specific lineups and plan for specific scenarios against specific teams. We build predictive models based on existing player-performance data and psychometric data around your team’s cultural DNA, so that you can anticipate what might happen, game by game – and strategize accordingly.  

So the business opportunity is significant.  But I know your passion for sports goes beyond that.  What about our current veebitSPORT pilots excite you most?

Veebit is unique in that we add a layer of insight to sports analytics that does not currently exist.  And this new layer of psychometric measurement interacts with all the existing datasets to create something entirely new and very exciting – prediction models that take mental traits and physical performance into account.  We are able to enhance a team’s understanding of a player’s abilities and potential, to predict and improve performance on and off the field. This benefits the player, the team, management and even the fans.  It’s this potential and mutually beneficial aspect that most excites me.

Jose Ramón Capdevila Xam-mar is Director of Corporate Strategy at Veebit, responsible for driving the firm’s growth strategy through development of new business lines and partnerships.  He also serves as a Managing Director of Player Lens, a UK-based sports technology company.