Modern athletes are finely tuned machines, capable of astonishing feats on the sports field and in the competitive arena. From Usain Bolt to Serena Williams, the planet’s top footballers to college sportspeople smashing records – these sports icons all have one thing in common. They understand precisely what they’re capable of, able to extract every bit of power and energy from their bodies.
But how do they know this? And how is it that they are able to operate at such a high level without breaking down? They can take exact measurements of their vital statistics and on-field performance, process them and analyze the results in intricate detail. And how do they do this? Simple – they use an athlete tracking system.
In this article, we look at these nifty pieces of tech, explore how they are changing the landscape of fitness, and check out some of the innovative tracking sports technologies that go into these pocket-sized digital performance experts.
How does the athlete tracking system work?
Athlete tracking systems involve far more than simply measuring heart rate and distance during training. These multi-faceted, cross-functional information collection and processing systems gather complex data metrics, analyze them, and present detailed results to the user in an easy-to-understand, usable way.
The process for sports performance tracking technology follows a blueprint like this:
- The system monitors the athlete in training and during competition collecting vital data.
- This data is transmitted wirelessly, live, or downloaded after the athlete completes their activity.
- The system software then analyzes the data.
- Reports and results containing the processed information are shared with the athlete or coach in easy-to-understand metrics and summaries.
- Information is used for feedback, performance analysis, training changes, injury assessment, progress reporting, and much, much more.
Early athlete tracking sports systems involved simple technology like basic, portable heart-rate monitors and step-meters. Many systems still use this older tech but also boast an impressive array of other features, too.
Now, wearable technologies and advances in connectivity mean that athlete tracking systems will soon be non-negotiable for athletes at all levels. Not to mention the massive impact artificial intelligence is expected to make in the sporting world.
The impressive benefits of athlete performance tracking
Athlete tracking systems can transform how an athlete views and interpret their efforts, allowing them to train harder for longer and to perform better in the arena. They can also assist a coach by providing them with the information needed to make key decisions in the interest of their team.
Here are a few of the benefits that these systems have for individual athletes and their coaches alike.
But the sport performance tracking benefits extend far beyond simply keeping an eye on things. They can pretty much transform how well an athlete – and their coach – actually performs when it matters most.
Managing the workload
Every good athlete knows that too much training can do more harm than good. Any coach worth his salt understands that driving their team hard in the run-up to a big game can often end badly.
During intense training, the body experiences severe stress, which can take days or even weeks to recover from. During this ‘recovery phase,’ an athlete is supposed to rest certain parts of the body to allow tissues, muscles, and tendons to recover. However, many inexperienced athletes have no idea how long to rest and often return to training too soon, doing too much and putting more strain on already stressed or weakened areas. Teams that have had a tough week on the training field can perform poorly, with collective fatigue and injury risk often bringing down some of the most successful professional outfits.
Athlete tracking sports systems allow athletes to have a good view of their activities over time, allowing them to slow down or intensify their efforts accordingly. They can also plan out their regimes ahead of time, setting targets and managing the risk of overworking the body and sustaining injury.
Reducing the injury risk
While injuries are more likely to occur during competition than during training, athletes spend far more time exercising than competing.
One of the number one causes of injury is overtraining, followed closely by game-day twists, sprains, and tears. While most injuries are mild, there are plenty of serious ones that can slow down or even completely derail a career. For a team, losing one of their own is hard to handle. However, for an individual athlete, this can be devastating. In today’s ultra-competitive environment, staying fighting fit is more critical than ever before.
Athlete training systems allow some athletes to manage their workloads, on-field, and training performance so well that they’re able to avoid injury altogether. These systems use technologies to enable users to analyze performance metrics and patterns, plan for important rest, and even anticipate injuries before they happen by flagging performance variables that we’d usually miss.
Delivering detailed performance feedback
Sport can be a funny thing. Sometimes, you think you’ve put in an incredible performance only to find your coach didn’t think so. While on another occasion, you feel like you could have done more, but your body tells you otherwise.
Challenges to feedback
Perceptions often get in the way of reality, causing confusion and leading to bad decisions. When an athlete or coach doesn’t have access to hard data, they’re left in the dark, playing a guessing game trying to understand performances and results.
The answers to getting it right
Technology now allows us to make extremely accurate and detailed recordings of an athlete’s different metrics, both on and off the field. From GPS delivering precise locations and distances to accelerometers and gyros capturing speed and movement intensities, sport performance tracking is delivering detailed feedback on performances like never before.
A better understanding of how individuals fit into the team
A team is only as strong as its weakest link. Cutting a player from a squad can be a hard and awkward task, but it can be very difficult to argue with anyone when you’re armed with the statistics to back up your decision.
There is no “I” in team
Coaches can often struggle to keep up with the different performances of each one of their team members. They often tend to pay more attention to their stars than the rest of the group and can even be blinded by favouritism, and – you’ve guessed it – inaccurate perceptions.
But there is room for data
When the time comes to make important team decisions, the benefit of hard data collected by athlete tracking systems is threefold:
1) It gives the coach a broad view of the team and individual performances simultaneously.
2) It allows the coach to back up their decisions with indisputable information.
3) It exposes hidden weaknesses in the team, allowing them to improve quickly.
Key sensors of sports performance tracking
Without reliable hardware, sports performance tracking would be nearly impossible. Believe it or not, your phone played a significant role in helping to develop the technology used in most athlete tracking sport systems. As smartphones began to gain in popularity in the early 2000s, companies had to find ways to pack multiple technologies into pocket-sized packages that were durable and light enough to carry around.
Eventually, engineers realized that penny-sized pieces of tech could be used outside the communications technology field, and wearable technology in sports was born. These technologies can be roughly divided into two groups – those that require the coach to analyze findings manually, and those that leverage AI-powered algorithms. While the former requires a lot of time and strong analytical skills, the latter makes it much easier to derive performance insights.
A perfect example of an exercise intelligence tool is SVEXA. Thanks to its AI-powered algorithms, it allows training teams to generate truly personalized recommendations to help athletes stay on top of their game and minimize injury risk.
Let’s now look at some of the basic features and technologies that allow athlete tracking systems to do their job.
Accelerometers measure speed by recording the acceleration of the body by sensing gravitational changes in the device. As an athlete jumps, runs, strokes, or tackles. They measure how many repetitions an athlete makes as well as how fast they’re moving, how much energy they’re using, and how quickly they can change direction. They are heavily leveraged in sports tech, as they are extremely accurate, affordable, and great for measuring activity.
This technology is particularly useful for high-movement sports like tennis, athletics, soccer, golf, swimming – anything, really. One interesting use case from the professional sports scene comes from the Australian football league, where accelerometers were used to track differences in physical movements on a per-athlete basis. This data was then analyzed to see each team member’s physical demands and capabilities.
GPS trackers are probably better-known for helping confused drivers get from point A to B, but they’re also pretty good at keeping track of how much distance an athlete covers and – for running and the more adventurous disciplines – of where an athlete is. For this reason, they’re one of the top wearable technologies in sports.
These trackers also allow you to measure real-time fatigue in matches, compare the performance of multiple players, and track intense periods of activity.
For this reason, they’re great not only for distance sports like running and cycling but also for on-field team sports like football. The NCAA College Football 1st Division, for example, made use of GPS technology to track collisions between players. This allowed administrators and researchers to examine the relationship between the demands placed on individual players and their playing positions.
By tracking the movement of the players during games, they learned about their running intensities, distances covered, and even acceleration and deceleration efforts. This data allowed coaches to develop position-specific training regimes to enhance their overall performance.
Gyros are nifty sensors that tap into the Earth’s gravity to measure angles while knowing exactly how on or off-balance you are. Gyros work in tandem with GPS data by providing it with tri-dimensional movement information, telling the system the precise direction of the horizontal plane that the athlete is moving in.
Gyro is used to measure and track the changes in angles of an athlete from sudden shifts in motion – think jumping, diving, and lunging. It syncs nicely with GPS data, allowing athletes to watch out for joint overload at specific angles and improve starting point positions.
This tracking system is perfect for basketball, tennis, volleyball, and even F1!
Where GPS measures distances, magnetometers measure direction. Without them, athlete tracking systems wouldn’t be able to understand which way an athlete was facing and thus be unable to track movement accurately.
By making use of an electric compass to figure out where North is, magnetometers can record every shift in movement whenever an athlete changes direction. This means recording rapid and subtle changes in direction.
Magnetometers are commonly used in precision sports like fencing, dancing, martial arts, and boxing to measure changes in direction and collect data on how efficiently the athlete is able to do so.
But in order to detect these subtle changes in the athlete’s direction and orientation, magnetometers need to be capable of picking up a range of shifts. Catapult’s tracking system, for example, makes use of magnetometers boasting three different axes. This allows the system to track movement in three dimensions, and at a 100Hz frequency – unlocking deeper data and delivering more detailed analytics.
Future of athlete tracking systems. What can we expect?
Athlete player tracking and monitoring technologies have boomed over the last few years, extending far beyond only the most elite athletes and teams. As this wearable technology in sports quickly advances and becomes more and more accessible, it’s only a matter of time before they become essential for sportspeople everywhere.
By 2027, the industry is slated to be worth over $3 billion, with advances in tracking, sports equipment, and data collection already being rolled out at an impressive rate.
The popularity of wearable technology in sports, fitness tracking apps, and – soon – significant strides in AI mean that athlete tracking systems are here to stay.
Athlete tracking system explained – summary
When it comes to sport, there is simply no better way to measure athletic performance than with a dependable and accurate athlete tracking system.
These tools allow coaches to keep tabs on their teams, with a wealth of data driving decisions and assisting in collective improvements. Individual athletes can now gain a more comprehensive understanding of their own performances, limits, and potential while managing their workloads, optimizing their training programs, and avoiding injury.
By unlocking access to this critical information, athletes can take better care of their bodies, progressively improve their performances, and even help their coaches perfect their training regimes. Athlete tracking systems represent advances in sports technology that is taking sports performance tracking to new heights – and athletes and coaches can’t get enough of it.
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