Sophisticated technology plays a larger role than ever before in the performance of modern athletes. This has allowed athletes such as Usain Bolt to run the 100 m men’s sprint 2.5 seconds faster than Thomas Burke did in 1890, .4 seconds faster than Jesse Owens in 1930, and .3 seconds faster than Carl Lewis in 1980.
To be sure, sophisticated technology has not replaced an athlete’s talent or their perseverance. But just having these two qualities is not sufficient. Modern technologies are needed if athletes want to up their game.
Technology and innovation have changed sports as a whole. Big data analytics, wearable technology, sensor technology, and even social media have led to a reinvention of the way sports are played. Professional athletes are able to learn more about their performance, find new training methods, and elevate their skills in a way that was not possible just a few decades ago. Let’s look at some of the ways this has happened.
Wearables for Managing, Monitoring, and Improving Performance
Wearables allow athletes and their trainers to track everything that happens to an athlete while performing. This includes their body chemistry, their heart rate, their rate of perspiration, and more. This information allows coaches to improve the way the athletes as individuals and their teams as a whole perform. By analyzing the way a athlete’s body functions, injuries can be avoided and recovery times can be minimized.
Wearables can be specialized to meet the needs of volleyball players, basketball players, boxers, and others who do large amounts of cardio, such as jumping rope during their training. Their performance is measured and alerts are created when athletes are reaching exhaustion levels that could be dangerous.
Some smart sensors allow for the monitoring of distribution and buildup of impact forces that might rattle the athlete’s brain, creating the potential for head trauma. Trainers can then recommend that athletes use the appropriate head or body protectors, like those found in this gear review.
Video analysis and video refereeing has become an essential part of many sports, ranging from rugby to tennis. Video technology allows referees to make decisions in a quick yet accurate way. If there is a question about a decision, the referees can review the video of the incident from a number of angles and at a variety of speeds.
Some people feel that this takes all of the fun out of the game. But the truth is that this technology makes the game fair. It creates an environment where players know that if they break a rule, there is a high chance of them getting caught. Video technology means that players can analyze themselves and their competition from a number of angles with the goal of improving their play.
Video technology has made it easier for coaches and trainers to look at a large play and identify individual elements of the play, analyze these, and then make performance decisions based on what they see. This information is passed on and included in the training regimens of their team, which can improve their success.
Aerodynamics and Hydrodynamics
Elite athletes are fast, have stamina, and require endurance to perform in any competition. Their performance is enhanced if they can minimize wind or water resistance. Aerodynamics and hydrodynamics have been used to improve the design of swimming costumes, NFL uniforms, as well as the curves on Formula One cars. By minimizing resistance, athletes have been able to increase their speed.
Evidence of the benefits of aerodynamics in sports was seen in the 1989 Tour de France. During the final time trial, Greg LeMond was 50 seconds behind Laurent Fignon. So, Greg adopted aerodynamic handlebars. This led to him beating Fignon by 58 seconds. In the end, Greg LeMond won the Tour de France by only eight seconds. Later studies showed that the handlebars gave Greg a one minute advantage, and the helmet 16 seconds. So, if Fignon had adopted aerodynamic technology, it is likely that he would have won the event.
Sports genetics are helping athletes understand how their genes impact their athletic performance. Think of what it means for athletes to be told what sports they should explore based on their genes. Or think of what it means for athletes to have a workout program or training regimen created based on their genes so as to prevent injury. Imagine the improvements athletes have seen when their diets are adjusted to meet their body’s specific nutritional requirements.
As DNA technology continues to evolve and become more specific, scientists are able to identify genetic markers that determine how the body will respond to weight training or how the body will respond to intense exercise. In the future, genetics may be used to help guide young athletes to the sports where they are most likely to be successful and where they are least likely to get injured.
Genetic profiles that include fast twitch muscles, high lung capacity, specified muscle and bone profiles, and other traits will likely play a role in producing better athletes in the future. Of course, things like mental resilience, perseverance, environment, and culture will play a role in an athlete’s future success.
Virtual reality makes it possible for athletes to practice their sports in real conditions. Virtual reality allows an athlete to repeat a movement or a form without necessarily needing to go to the soccer field or the baseball diamond. They can train in real conditions, collect data from these virtual sessions, and improve their performance.
In the future, augmented reality, where images and information are projected over a visible real-world environment, when coupled with smart algorithms may make it possible for players to play against virtual opponents and get a better understanding of their real-life opponent’s possible moves based on historical game data.
As sports-related technology advances, it’s easy to think that the sky is the limit. However, many people are already having real conversations about ethical and fairness concerns that certain technologies create in the sports world. That being said, it is enjoyable for athletes and spectators alike to see how technology is pushing the boundaries of what sports can be.