The world of sports technology is rapidly changing — so much so that you’d be hard pressed to find someone at the gym, on the court, or even in the pool not sporting a step counter or some kind of ‘smart’ device. The commercialization of these technologies over the past several years has made Fitbits trendy amongst even the most sedentary people — they’ve become accessories that are as commonplace as a watch and are just as visible as a pair of headphones.

“90 per cent mental, the other half is physical”

The technology reserved for today’s professional sports teams and athletes encompasses every aspect of sport; it is not reserved simply for physical feats. Various types of data on an athlete’s mental health, nutrition, and alertness can be collected, measured, and quantified by sport psychologists, doctors, and coaches in order to help create and maintain the most elite athlete possible.

At U of T, research is currently being undertaken to explore athletes’ mental health and wellbeing in the sport and performance psychology lab. At last year’s sport-science symposium held at the Goldring Centre, Dr. Katherine Tamminen presented an application developed in conjunction with U of T’s Department of Psychology. Athletes rate their mental state before, during, and after competition, and the app is able to reveal trends which are helpful in developing coping mechanisms for athletes.

Keeping your head

Technology has the ability to make sports more efficient and safe for athletes, especially in contact sports where serious injuries are commonplace. The advancement of equipment — helmets, for instance — that can help detect and protect against concussions is a major advantage to biomedical sports technology.

Technology like ShockBox, created by the American-based i1 Biometrics, is able to wirelessly transmit information from sensors placed on an athlete’s helmet to the smartphone, laptop, or equivalent device of a coach, friend, or relative. This information is then used to tabulate various statistics, the most important being the severity of head impacts. The technology can alert the user if the hit is significant enough to result in a concussion for the athlete.

Changing the game

Due to the constant changes and advancements in sports technology, it’s easy to forget that the very nature of sport has been forever changed by science and technology. Gone are the days when the 100m dash — and every track event in athletics competitions for that matter — were decided by whomever broke the white tape at the finish line first. Now there are intricate sensors and high definition cameras that can measure down to the thousandth of a second and capture a photo finish.

In soccer, a sport that has traditionally been resistant to the use of technology in its professional leagues, sensors were introduced in 2014 to assist referees. Also, who could imagine watching a tennis match devoid of the thrill caused by athletes challenging calls made by the chair umpire?

Sports engineers, psychologists, and kinesiologists are now tasked with minimizing the subjectivity of sport through more qualitative methods. As Dr. Greg Wells of U of T’s Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education posits, “Sports in conjunction with science is giving athletes the best opportunity to perform, helping athletes and coaches make good decisions to improve performance.”

As athletes are able to become more efficient, teams are able to become more competitive, and leagues are able to garner greater media presence, all due to advancements in statistics, analytics, and technology. The need for sports engineers to create and adapt to the changing face of sport will only continue to increase.