Action Sport tracker: the quest for performance?

Executive Summary

1. a tool “still in the test phase”
2. technology already successful in Rio
3. Bodyconnect, the t-shirt that wants to go even further
4. “Preventing risks for top athletes”
5. A dehumanized sport?

This summer, the eyes of the world will be turned to Rio to follow the most high-profile event on the planet: the Olympic Games. An event awaited by hundreds of athletes who will once again try to make history in their discipline. Four years ago, thirty-two records were set in London. This performance coincides with the progressive use of connected tools for top-level sport. Whether they are performance sensors, vital data or motion detectors, connected objects nowadays have an essential place in professional sports structures. Placed in the jersey, under the cap, racket or at the top of the stands, the sensors are available in many different forms to offer athletes optimal expertise in their data, which, more than ever, is at the heart of the sporting challenge.

Long assimilated to the work of bookmakers, sports data are now omnipresent during training sessions. Football, athletics, swimming, tennis, rugby, rowing: so many disciplines that are now counting on them to deliver results. Data collected by wireless sensors, usually placed around the athlete’s body to calculate and analyze their physical abilities.

This is called “sport tracking”, a technology now used by many teams and federations. In France, Mac Lloyd Sport has a monopoly on this tool and already supplies several professional teams such as Olympique Lyonnais and Racing 92.

These “intrusive” systems are wearable GPS sensors integrated into equipment or objects, communicating with a receiver connected to a digital platform. The tool transmits more than 150 indicators and 1000 data per second in direct time, which can be consulted by the technical staff and coaches. Heart rate, GPS position and acceleration data can be immediately analyzed by the fitness trainer to interpret the physical condition of the athlete and team. The objective of this device is to better individualize the players’ performance on the field so that the intensity and volume of training can be adjusted during their daily sessions.
A tool “still in the test phase”

For the past two years, Mac Lloyd Sport’s “sport tracking” technology has been used on board the boats of the French Rowing Team. A new tool for a French team that is competing for the podium in international competitions, as well as for the two-man French lightweight couple, reigning world champion and coached by Alexis Besançon. “We are still in the design and testing phase, but in four years we will really see the impact of this technology on our performance,” he explains.

rowing

Committed to the Rio Olympic Games, the coach knows how essential it has become to examine each piece of data in order to go even further during training and strive for excellence. “We’re looking for every cent in competition. The transmission of cardiac data, speed, amplitude and cadence of the train is done live, which allows us to be more efficient during training sessions and to gain speed”.

Barely adopted by the French rowing team, Alexis Besançon nevertheless prefers to remain pragmatic and waits to see his efficiency in the long term. “We still don’t have enough perspective to know if it really influences our performance. We will really know in four years. But what is certain is that it brings us (to coaches, NDLR) more comfort, and rowers feel that they are more efficient”. Despite everything, there is no doubt in his mind that in a few years’ time “all rowing teams will use this technology”.
A technology that has already won in Rio

Before being able to prove its efficiency this summer on the athletics tracks and basins of Rio de Janeiro for the Olympic Games, “sport tracking” had already made a splash in Maracana for the 2014 football World Cup. Richard Attias, founder of the New York Forum and the Davos Summits, explained two years ago on his blog how Germany had taken advantage of these sensors to prepare for and eventually win the competition.

Connected sport Germany

“For several months before the World Cup, the Mannschaft trained with software that analyzed players’ biometric data and movements, as well as the history of matches played by its opponents.” The technology was linked to cameras to analyze players’ movements and reactions to their opponents, and whether or not they were following the stated tactics.

In addition, the biometric data would have been decisive for the coaches of the Nationalmannschaft, particularly during training sessions. “Performance was optimized, rest periods were better planned and the risk of injury reduced.” A technological cocktail that has proven its worth.

If individual performance can be assessed and optimised, what about the prevention of injuries, fatigue and other physical problems due to the practice of high performance sport? A French start-up thinks it has the solution.
Bodyconnect, the t-shirt that wants to go even further

A t-shirt is called a t-shirt that goes even further in the process of monitoring top-level athletes: bodyconnect. Initiated by a French start-up, this new technology would broaden the scope of the data collected and their interpretation thanks to new algorithms. Benjamin Lanquar, one of the two entrepreneurs behind the project, tells us about the birth of this connected t-shirt.

“One day during a game we asked ourselves the following question; how could we know when to stop a player to avoid any physiological risk. The idea then came to us while playing Playstation: we would need a power bar like in games.” A simple idea, but one that is much more complex to implement.

Unlike other technologies that mostly only provide information on heart rate, bodyconnect offers a true medical ECG (electrocardiogram), transmitting accurate data on the heart’s performance, making it possible to prevent when the athlete has reached certain limits. “The iMVS (Monitoring Vital Sign) technology integrated into our T-shirt gives extremely accurate information,” insists Benjamin Lanquar.

Heart rate and lung pressure are collected and combined to give a very accurate result on the remaining energy and/or energy consumed by the athlete during exercise. All this can be viewed thanks to graphs and diagrams that can be read by everyone on a smartphone/tablet/computer/smartwatch application. All the individual data of the team will be available live and will allow the coach to judge the fatigue rate and speed of recovery of each player, and thus to guide his training exercises or his coaching during the games.
“Preventing risks for top athletes”

This “non-intrusive” t-shirt will cover all sports, team or individual, amateur or professional, and will provide its data through a data logger of less than one centimetre, placed in the t-shirt below the neck. Bodyconnect will also integrate 3D displacement sensors to track each movement of the athlete, correct his movements or measure the impacts in rugby for example.

“We will be able to analyse an athlete’s entire season, including the time of injury, and detect, for example, heart and lung failure, in order to better prevent risks for top athletes,” the entrepreneur points out.
A dehumanized sport?

This is a strong argument at a time when sport and business have never been so closely linked and when top athletes represent a real investment for clubs, but also for sponsors. Four years ago at the London Olympics, 86% of medal winning athletes were already using these data analyses.

But wouldn’t their abundance run counter to the values of sport, which is essentially an inaccurate science, attached to the inherent notion of the human factor, of chance? In fact, this “dataisation” of performance tends above all to confirm that top-level sport raises many financial challenges for professional teams and athletes themselves, who are increasingly assimilated to record machines, titles and other lucrative contracts.