The Training Robot Just Two Bundesliga Clubs Utilize

In Where Others Won’t, we religiously explore the lengths pro sports teams go to in order to set their people up to succeed. One of the most revolutionary moves in recent memory came in 2012, when German Bundesliga club Borussia Dortmund unveiled a machine that makes your bowling alley skill tester look as complex as a thumb tack.

Footbonaut, a holistic training machine, costs $3.5m, a pricetag that just one other team has since seen value in. Dortmund’s rival, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, feature heavily in Where Others Won’t, so it’s little surprise that they are one of the clubs to invest in such a technologically-advanced training system.

The system is designed to test a player’s awareness, touch, passing, and speed. Standing in the centre of the room, the player must turn to receive a ball from one of the four sides, which he must control and then pass into one of 72 square panels, which light up.

Coaches control the system via a tablet, and can manipulate the speed of the ball, spin, height, and which panel lights up. Dortmund’s then-coach Jürgen Klopp was full of praise for the system in a New York Times feature, saying “it demands precise skills used at speed in a physically tough environment. It’s quite a package!”

In a report by CNN, Hoffenheim’s innovation director Rafael Hoffner claims every team from Under 12’s upwards spends time in the machine, with passing speeds of the first team players 0.3 seconds faster, on average, than they were two years earlier. The youth team had improved by closer to half a second. “One of the most important things is that we have the data,” Hoffner adds, “so with the data we can see how good the player is.”

Whether teams think Footbonaut is a fun gimmick or a gamechanger, it appears to be working, with Dortmund finishing 3rd last season and Hoffenheim finishing 4th — both qualifying for European competition.