John Tolley, July 25, 2017

Soccer. Football. Fútbol. Call it what you will, it is inarguably the most popular team sport in the world, played by well over 300 million individuals.

One of the key skills of the fast-moving game is passing the ball. Players need to be fleet-of-foot and mentally sharp to catch, maneuver and launch the ball to a waiting teammate or into the goal. Practicing the skill is easy enough surrounded by other players, but alone it can be tricky and expensive given the major cash big league teams are willing to shell out for top-of-the-line equipment.

That is until a group of Northwestern University students in the Segal Design Institute?s Design 384: Interdisciplinary Design Projects course set their minds to creating a relatively low-cost, portable and effective passing-simulation practice kit.

As outlined in a recent McCormick School of Engineering article, the interdisciplinary team of product design, mechanical engineering, electronics and computer science majors worked with Northwestern men?s soccer assistant coach Rich Nassif to develop the product their calling Assists, which they produced for around $500.

To operate Assists, a player stands in the middle of a circular arrangement of the goals, placed approximately 20 feet apart. The player then launches the iPhone app, which signals to an automatic ball feeder to send a ball to the player while simultaneously activating a red light on top of one [of the] goals, chosen at random. The player then receives the pass from the feeder, locates the lit goal, and kicks the ball through as quickly as they can.

After the drill ends, data on the number of scores and the time it took for the ball to pass through the target is sent from the goals to the app so players can assess their performance.

Nassif arranged for Wildcat soccer players to test the Assists system on the field, resulting in some good-natured ribbing between the athletes that left the team confident in their product.

Assists will, hopefully, soon be an integral part of Northwestern soccer?s off-season training regimen, says Nassif.

?The trainer shows our players that just because our coaches can?t go out there and pass with you doesn?t mean you can?t still train. Our players are not only competitive, but they are also analytical. We think Assists can become a valuable tool to improve