Wearable technology has already started to become part of normal life for many people, with one in six consumers now using wearable technology. Initially met with trepidation due to the overreaching of products such as Google Glass, product development has since scaled back to meet more realistic needs rather than force needs upon the consumer.
To this end, wearable technology has also begun to have an impact in the sporting world. For regular consumers, this advancement has come in the form of activity trackers from companies such as Fitbit, which reported revenue of $745.4 million in 2014. However, elite sports stars and organisations are now looking into the benefits of wearable technology and using it to influence decisions in real-time.
Sport has traditionally had a tempestuous relationship with technology. The proponents of sabermetrics in baseball during the 1990s – which looked to use statistics to measure in-game performances – championed technology to the point that it transformed tactics in the sport forever, and cricket has always used stats as a means of gauging player value in a rudimentary fashion. However, sports purists have often been swift to claim that stats veil the truth and thus the value of statistics, and by proxy technology, has never been fully embraced.
One of the sports that is in the process of changing this perception is rugby. Any keen-eyed observers during the recent RBS Six Nations may have noticed a protrusion from between the shoulderblades of each player, and this was owed to the GPS unit worn by every player. In its previous iterations, GPS technology allowed coaches to perform post-game analysis on a series of metrics. However, advances in the technology now allow the non-playing staff to delve into the metrics during the game.
The scope of the metrics has also expanded, allowing coaches to look in detail at accelerations contrasted with decelerations and the impact of tackles. International rugby coaches now reportedly use these metrics to help decide on when to substitute players or leave them on the pitch for longer based on whether a player’s stats start to decline or remain stable. With England’s head coach Eddie Jones repeatedly emphasising the importance of replacement players, wearable technology is set to become a crucial part of rugby tactics and strategy in years to come.
The development of apps such as Magicoach allow even amateur football players to monitor metrics such as total distance run and there are even startups creating the world’s first smart football boots, but at the elite level GPS technology is starting to have a similar effect on football as in rugby. Catapult Sport’s OptimEye S5 has become the industry standard for wearable technology in football after it was used by Leicester City during the incredible 2015-2016 Premier League season which saw the club defy 5,000-1 odds and lift the trophy last year.
The technology is capable of collecting over 800 data points per second, and as in rugby can determine a player’s acceleration and the impact of collisions. The latter of these was seen as particularly important to Leicester City’s success, as it was reported that Leicester City had the fewest injured players throughout the season owed to the club’s shrewd use of wearable technology and clever interpretation of the data points.
An issue that has stuck to many international cricketers throughout their careers has been that of illegal bowling actions. In accordance with the rules of the sport, players are not allowed to bend their bowling arm when bowling the ball. The practice of doing so is called “chucking” and the debate continues to rage on which players are guilty of this practice.
Biometric testing presently allows for players to be analysed in lab conditions and assessed to see if they are extending the limits designated by the governing board, but many fans and commentators have argued that players do not replicate their bowling actions honestly when being tested. In-game testing is moving closer though, as Pakistani startup ClicFlex has developed a sleeve made from material that measures the angle of the arm without disturbing a player’s normal performance.
In a similar means to rugby and football, the Australian cricket team has begun using technology that gives details on performance metrics such as bowling intensity. This technology was initially developed by the Australian Catholic University and can be used to measure short term metrics such as fatigue or to monitor long-term performance trends. Academic research has shown in the past that bowlers are susceptible to injuries such as lumbar spine injury, and as such the increased use of wearable technology will hopefully help coaches to monitor players and prevent injuries before they occur.
The recent uptick in the use of wearable technology in sport has enabled coaches to make more decisions during a game that could potentially help influence the result or the impact on a given player. Most of the examples given here relate to injury prevention and the identification of fatigue, and as this has been a hazy area in the past with players often reluctant to admit when they are tired, the addition of wearable technology will benefit coaches looking to get the most from their players.
What is your opinion of the use of wearable technology in sport? Will it lead to more exciting spectacles or create formulaic and predictable outcomes? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or share your opinions with us on Twitter @mporium.