Wearables are starting to take the world of sport by storm. Athletes at the top of their game are using devices in training to make better, more informed decisions with their coach and improve their performance. And, when the margins between them and their biggest rival are so small, getting such decisions right can mean the difference between winning and losing. Here, I look at how wearables are being used by athletes, the challenges in getting it right, and what kind of devices are set to be the next big thing.
Why is the use of wearables in sport growing?
Analysts put the sports and fitness performance wearables market at €3.1bn in 2014, a figure that is set to rise to €13.4bn by 2021. Embedding sensors into athletes’ clothes, watches and bands, and even their bodies enables them and their fitness teams to make strategic decisions about their performance, based on tangible metrics rather than gut instinct. In addition, while coaches may previously have spent hours analysing video footage post-training sessions, tactics can be decided in real-time on the field. In the industry’s bid to tackle doping, wearables can also be used to monitor athletes’ heart rate, respiration levels and temperature, with any anomalous results or sudden changes in behaviour being easily identifiable.
How are wearables being used in sport?
In training sessions, field sports teams are being equipped with sensors to monitor their positions and track their distance covered. This enables coaching teams to assess where players can be most effective and optimise their performance for match day. In sparring, boxers are being equipped with gloves that have sensors embedded within them to track the intensity of each punch, and the number of seconds between punches; helping coaches to work out how best to improve their technique and give them an advantage over rivals in the ring.
On race day, smart glasses can be used by cyclists to check their speed, the distance covered so far and the distance to the finish line, enabling them to keep a check on their competitors and see what they need to do to win. Smart fabrics are also being introduced into the sporting arena, giving sponsors and advertisers huge potential to market their brands and products through lights and videos on the sports stars’ kits while they’re in action on the pitch.
Key considerations for the use of wearables in sport
While the benefits of wearables are clear to see, certain decisions must be taken into account to ensure sports stars’ performance isn’t affected. For example, it’s important that the athlete’s comfort isn’t sacrificed by the device – it should almost be ‘invisible’ to ensure it doesn’t distract them or impact their performance in any way.
Coaching teams must also expand to include analysts and data scientists who can mine the information and deliver valuable insights to improve performance. This is still a relatively new area for sports, and therefore getting individuals in with the right skills and experience could prove difficult.
With the industry still very much in its infancy, it’s an exciting time for athletes and their teams, but also for wearables manufacturers and IT integrators looking for a piece of the action. While smart bands are popular, due to their ease of use and relatively low cost, I see the next big developments being made in connected clothing. To analyse more information about the athlete’s performance, more sensors are needed to track more parts of their bodies – and the only way to do this is to embed them within textiles.
Will 2020’s Olympic athletes all be kitted out in smart clothing? Time will only tell, but what is certain is we’ll continue to see more developments in this area as our sports stars of the future take their game to the next level. Watch this space!