Using technology to enhance sports performance
One of the early lessons we were taught as children was to learn from our mistakes. In physical activities, therefore, if athletes don’t monitor their performance on a long-term basis, how can they know if they are doing an activity right or wrong and learn from their mistakes? How can athletes decide if their body is fit for that type of sport or they could do better in another? Coaches can do that job, but only to a certain level.
I still recall when Cristiano Ronaldo was filmed in a documentary in 2012, when technology was used to examine his abilities forensically and everyone was surprised, including him. The documentary included challenges to show his body strength, mental ability, technique and skills. He had the opportunity to be “tested to the limit,” as they called it, and he learned how to make use of what he had, while working on what he lacks.
Ronaldo continues his interest in this field and in 2017 he promoted Nike’s technology products, including its “Pro Genius” app, which provides mental, physical and technical training for soccer players.
What about other athletes and sporting amateurs who want to move up to the next level? Technology has changed equipment design at all levels – from low-level recreational activities to high-level competitive sports.
According to a 2015 study by Thomas Page — senior lecturer in electronic product design at the UK’s Loughborough Design School — wearable sports technology could enable early detection of an injury and hence training could be adjusted accordingly. Furthermore, the data enables athletes to monitor themselves and therefore benchmark themselves against others and identify areas for improvement.
Another study in 2018 suggested wearable sports technology has several advantages, like exploiting personal data to support health and exercise-related goals. And this is just one type of technology — it could also be implemented in sports facilities and construction.
One recent example of how athletes can benefit from the use of technology is the Swedish judo team. For the past three years, they have been using an application called Athlete Analyzer to track everything that happens during training and competitions. Swedish Judoka Tommy Macias now ranks sixth in the world for the -73 kg category, according to a documentary by CNN.
Irish companies, such as Orreco, Kitman Labs and Statsports, are also getting stronger in the field of sports technologies. According to figures collected by TechIreland, there are 43 sports tech companies in the country. Statsports, for example, captures thousands of data points per second in real time on everything from speed and distance run to whether an athlete is favoring their left or right side so much that their running efficiency goes out of sync. Statsports announced in March it had agreed a five-year partnership worth £1 billion ($1.35bn) with the US Soccer Federation.
Nevertheless, the challenge here is the high cost — the application of technology in the field of sports tends to be available only to elite athletes and teams. Who else could adopt such technology and what would happen to those who cannot keep up? This takes us to a point where training an athlete will no longer only depend on a venue or a trainer, rather it would also require a decent amount of funding for up-to-date technologies. Would it be a fair competition between those who had the luxury of benefiting from such technology and those who did not? Is that the reason why some of our athletes don’t succeed here, but they shine when they go to a more developed country and train? Who will encourage it, and who will set the bar for the use of technology in sport?
• Dr. Razan Baker is a member of the board of directors at the Saudi Bowling Federation, a specialist in corporate social responsibility in sports, and a sports columnist/journalist.