Technology hijacked sports
Instead of the stairs, you use an elevator to get to your office. You work on your desktop computer or laptop and use a smartphone. You use your credit card to pay for lunch. Technology became gradually part of our life, so it is normal that professional sports also started to exploit its possibilities.
In Formula–1, cycling, swimming, or athletics professional timer services have appeared, thus making every thousandth of a second count. The hawk–eye technique has helped track the trajectory of balls in cricket since 2001 and in tennis since 2004. In the video replay, we can clearly see whether the ball was in or out. The performance of football players has been measured and assessed by a method introduced by UEFA in 2007. Sixteen cameras monitor the field so that officials are able to follow the trajectories of the players and the ball accurately. Goal–line technology assists ice hockey and football referees decide whether the ball was in or out. In American football referees can re–watch a play when the call is close. In basketball the NBA uses replay vision to review last–touch decisions in the final two minutes of the game.
Technology gathers data about every second of the game and every second of the performance of the players. Data helps to analyze, create new strategies and thus boost players’ performance in the arena. But is it everything technology could offer professional sportsmen and sportswomen?
The answer is certainly no. Technology can boost talent, health management as well as coaching – the three factors which matter in sport.
1) Preventive genomics
No matter, whether we talk about skiing, ice-skating, wrestling, volleyball or kite-flying, the number one factor in sports is talent. Whether you have it in your genes or not. And what if science might help in telling you what kind of sports should you try based on your genes? What if they tell you how should you change your work-out or your overall training in order to prevent injury? Or what kind of nutritional demands do you have?
It is already possible. The Nova Scotia-based performance company, Athletigen Technology Inc. works with several athletes aiming to use collected DNA information to improve performance, health and safety of athletes. Athletigen has a team of researchers who use a combination of current studies and their own work. These genetic tests could reveal additional insight from a heightened risk of injury until nutritional demands. Later, these results allow the helpers of an athlete to adjust his or her workout plan and nutrition accordingly.
2) Finding the best diet with nutrigenomics
So, if you want to be the next Usain Bolt or the Iron Lady, Katinka Hosszú, the following steps might help you with the training. After having your DNA sequenced (perhaps already at home!), and Athletigen suggested you the appropriate sport and an appropriate training program, a smart app could let you know which food you should eat, when you should eat it and what you should avoid at all cost.
A well-composed diet plan is crucial for athletes. As we are all genetically different, our diet should be personalized. The new field in dietetics, nutrigenomics aims to do exactly that. For me, the data of my complete DNA sequence at home in a digital file showed me that I’m sensitive to caffeine and process alcohol more thoroughly than most people (I’m Hungarian after all).
The California-based start-up, Habit plans to use genetic markers to identify the ideal meal for each of its customers, and send that meal directly to their doors. You only need to send back their required blood sample kit, do their so-called “metabolic challenge” and provide a series of body metrics. All of this analysis leads to a personalized meal plan of foods that works best for the user’s body. The spread of nutrigenomics could be of huge help for athletes to find the right diet boosting their performance to reach new records.
3) Health management with sensors and wearables
Beyond nutrigenomics there is a gazillion of healthcare wearables and sensors which might aid your training, keep you healthy while bring out the best of you. Such devices let us measure data about our health, as well as receive immediate feedback about how we are performing. Data provides the basic element of systemic change as well, since you cannot have a long-lasting impact on anything without knowing what’s going on. So, if you do not understand why your performance in tennis, swimming, golf or pretty much any sport is lower than you expected, start collecting your data.
Pebble Time and the Android Sleep App follows your sleeping habits; Fitbit Surge tracks your fitness activities, while PIP gives you an overview about your stress levels. I’ve been quantifying my health since 1997, first on paper, then with more and more sensor. It helps me live healthily and fit, but imagine what a professional athlete and a coach might achieve with their help! For example, Babolat Play, a connected tennis racket stores information about players games, such as shot power and ball impact location on racket along with number of strokes (forehand, backhand, serve, smash), spin, total and effective play time, endurance, technique, consistency, energy, and rallies.
Beyond sensors and wearables measuring many vital signs at once, gadgets specializing in one area might also prove to be useful for athletes. For example, volleyball players, basketball players or boxers, who do lots of jump roping during their training might want to try Vert. It helps them measure and improve their jumping capabilities; and know when they are nearing an unsafe level of fatigue that may lead to injury.
4) Technology boosting performance
Beyond gadgets, imagine chips and clothing measuring vital signs and devices actively boosting performance! Many athletes in professional clubs now wear special shirts that measure their vital signs during practice or even games.
HexoSkin developed a shirt with sensors woven into it that measure heart rate, breathing, number of steps, pace, and calories burned. The shirts are marketed to professional athletes, researchers, and people who simply want to live more healthily. The company, MC10 makes microchips that can measure numerous vital signs simultaneously. A biostamp chip called Checklight was added to a skullcap so it could detect if an athlete sustained a head injury after a collision.
The London-based D30 introduced a smart material this year. It provides terrific shock absorption and impact protection capabilities, which are naturally an ideal fit for basically every sport. The tech in D3O’s smart material is based on “non-Newtonian” principles, which means that in standard conditions, the molecules flow freely, allowing the material to remain soft and flexible, but on impact, they lock together to absorb energy and reduce the force transmitted.
Besides, baseball players might want to check out Diamond Kinetics, runners to try the Sensoria smart socks, yoga-goers to try SmartMat, basketball players to shoot with 94Fifty basketball, and snowboarders of all skill levels to analyze their skill on the slopes with Cerevo’s tech.
Augmented and virtual reality might also come in handy for athletes. They might not only enable medical students to study anatomy on an enhanced level, but it might also makes possible for sportsmen and sportswomen to get used to stressful situations in VR-simulations and to project information in front of their eyes during performing in a certain game or competition with the help of special goggles or a Google glass.
Doing and watching sports belongs to the most ancient activities of mankind. Just look at the antique arenas in Athens or Rome! I believe that technology can help us in boosting performance, but we have the task to preserve the fun side of doing sports. Let’s not forget that sports are the source of happiness and great beauty and use technologies with responsibility!