Team Sports Technology in Sports Science Are We Seeing The Big Picture?

8:30am – woke up, turned off my sleep sensor, apparently I slept 5 hours straight, pretty good after a night game, especially considering the caffeine I took before the game


8:35am – sent my Heart Rate Variability file through via my iPhone, apparently I’m a ‘warning’

9am – just before I left for training my phone started beeping again, forgot to send my sleep scores through, hope I’m not fined for that

9:30am – arrived at training ground. Inputted my info into the wall computer...Weight = 80kg, Muscle Soreness = 7, Energy = 7, Overall Well Being = 7. I think that’s what I normally put after each game. Noticed that someone put 120kg next to Smithy’s weight....pretty funny

9:35am – filled in my pee cup, can’t believe someone has to analyse all of these

10am – after breakfast I had to lay down for 10mins on the Omegawave. Only problem is they won’t let me use my phone and I almost fell asleep. Still, it’s far better than the blood they take tomorrow for my muscle damage

10:20am – just before recovery starts I get the cotton bud in my mouth again. Not sure what's worse, having to analyse my spit or my pee, turns out it’s the same guy doing it!

10:30am – put on the GPS and HR monitor for recovery. It’s only a light jog for us but the guys who didn’t play are getting hammered! I have a quick look at the fitness iPad and some of the guys have done over 300m of sprinting already!

11am – session finished, give my standard RPE score on the iPad of 4, jumped in the ice the new TV in there!

11:30am – check in with the physio, my knee is still a bit sore. He wants me to do a little jog on the curve shaped treadmill. Its only 5 mins and after he tells me that my scores are pretty good so I guess that’s OK.

12pm – quick upper body gym session, my speed on the bench press is still in the top 5 according to the screen above it, but my box jump score was down on the team average.

12:45pm – grab some lunch then about to head home when the fitness coach shows me my sprints were down a bit on last night’s game. Asks me if I felt OK and I said ‘fine, we won didn’t we??’

1:30pm – Grab the Ice machine from the physio and head home, can’t wait for the afternoon, spending it on the Xbox!

This is not an unusual day in the life of a modern day team sports athlete. In many sports, such as Rugby Union and Australian Rules Football (AF) in particular, the use of technology in player monitoring has reached substantial proportions. The challenge for those working in Sports Science and Sports Medicine is to determine which technology is going to produce information that actually affects performance.

In the above example the recovery from a match was determined by Estimated Sleep, Heart Rate Variability, Omega Wave, Salivary Analyses, Subjective Ratings, Hydration Status, Creatine Kinase and Neuromuscular Fatigue. Each assessment used some fantastic technology and made it as easy as possible on the player however even in the most scientific, disciplined environment this is surely overkill.

Undoubtedly some of the technology is accepted and even enjoyed by the players. The immediate feedback and competitive element of the bench press scores and on-field iPad, the TV in the ice bath that can double as a message board, and the interactive elements of various iPad/iPhone apps can provide Sports Scientists with ideal platforms to assesses and monitor players. However the indirect aspect of technology must not be abused by players. Remote subjective ratings, for example, while convenient, also offer players an easy path to unrepresentative scores. Additionally, RPE scores are prevalent in the literature but are only reliable in an educated, motivated group of players.

Prudent use of technology may reveal outliers previously undetectable. This is absolutely crucial and perhaps the major benefit of assessment and monitoring within a football or team sports environment. Of interest then is which technology reveals injury or performance-related outliers most effectively. This question can only be answered through extensive, appropriate evaluation.

‘Readiness to Play/Train’ is becoming a buzz term within the industry and is generally used to describe the set of factors/tests/questionnaires leading to the determination of a players’ ability to train or play. 15 years ago it was simply assumed after a game that a player might need some light training for 1-2 days before he/she was able to train or play. It may well be that obtaining this new level of information on players post game invariably leads to the same conclusion.

Not all monitoring tools transfer effectively to a team sports environment. There is much research on the use of tools/values such as CK, Saliva Analysis, HRV and Omegawave however information on their use in a professional football environment is limited at best. In-house use of these and other tools may reveal appropriate practice however much of this research is either not in a sufficiently ‘controlled’ environment for publication or kept within the confines of competition-wary clubs.

One monitoring tool that is prevalent within the literature is HRV. This can be conveniently estimated remotely using an iPhone app. However applying this research (mainly conducted on cycling, rowing and running) directly to a team sports environment presents numerous challenges. HRV is influenced by diurnal variation, food and fluid consumption, caffeine consumption, body orientation at measurement and previous activity, amongst other factors. Collecting HRV is best achieved immediately upon waking, in a standing position and prior to any activity or food consumption. However, if HRV is collected when the players arrive at the training ground factors such as traffic, caffeine, body orientation and previous activity will almost certainly affect results. In the latter environment, monitoring HRV becomes unreliable and largely ineffective. Applying these strict controls to a squad assessing themselves in their home environment is therefore very difficult.

Lack of published research should never deter clubs from using technology to monitor players and performance. Clubs should however, ensure the data they collect is both reliable and valid, at least for their playing group. This can be difficult in such an applied environment but it’s essential that these tools are used in a robust environment in order to assess their true effectiveness.

One example where research is lacking but sound application of technology in a team sports environment can be possible is use of the Woodway Curve 3 Treadmill. With 2 familiarization sessions players can reproduce reliable stride length, stride frequency, horizontal and vertical force scores across a range of non-motorized running speeds. Once this reliability is established, the use of this technology for injury detection, specific conditioning and gait analysis becomes very exciting.

Professional football clubs, and team sport environments in general, have embraced the use of technology with the view that player monitoring and injury prevention can be enhanced as a result. While this may be so in some cases, extensive evaluation must be employed in order to ensure these tools are valid, reliable and appropriate for use in these settings.

Darren Burgess



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