Superbowl XLIX and the Future of Athlete Performance

As the best two teams in the NFL battle it out on the gridiron, PSFK considers the future of performance and how technology is suiting athletes

On Sunday, the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots will face each other at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona for Superbowl XLIX. They meet for the first time since the Seahawks’ upset win in 2012.

Since then, technology has only gotten better – wearable tech has become mainstream and even the most amateur runner looks for compression shorts to help his game. While sports has long suffered from illegal performance enhancers, tech has now become the ultimate tool for optimization. Here are some of the innovations that could up the ante in athlete performance.

Motion Trackers

While most lay people may wear activity trackers to keep informed about how many miles they’ve run or calories they’ve burned, athletes are looking to gather data on their specific movements.

The ShotTracker comes with a net sensor and wristband, connected to an app. The sensor can be attached to any basketball net, and when the wristband is worn, it begins to gather data on shots taken, sending it to the app. Players can gather stats on how many shots they miss or make, and the app will also advise trouble spots on the court with workout drills.

Vert is another motion tracker geared towards basketball, but instead of focusing on shots taken, it focuses on jumps. Any sport that requires jumping can use the sensor to discover how high athletes jump (something important in draft combines, for example), and how often and when they are nearing fatigue.

Vert

The SwingTracker applies a similar approach to baseball. A sensor is attached to a baseball bat and captures motion data in real-time, syncing to an app. Players will be able to see their swing in a way they never could before, and can delve into 15 different swing analytics on power, speed, control and quickness.

On display at CES 2015, Babolat is a smart tennis racket that uses sensors in the handle to gather data on the player’s game. It gathers everything from play time, to number of strokes, shot power, ball impact, endurance, technique and rallies.

GPS Analytics

We are also beginning to see how GPS tracking can be used in a sporting context with new software that can track players on the field or the pitch to paint a richer, more complex picture of game play.

German software company Kinexion offers precise localization using motion sensors and tracking that is connected to an app. During training sessions a coach can see how the players are moving on the field, to better analyze play.

Australian company Catapult claims to have invented the category of athlete analytics. They also offer a GPS tracking system for team sports, and a suite of software to make the raw data comprehensible to coaches and team managers. Often working with official NFL teams, it would be unsurprising if both the Patriots and Seahawks are taking advantage of it.

Smart Clothing

Clothing is another facet ripe for innovation when it comes to performance. We are already seeing major brands like Puma and adidas create smart clothing to increase an athlete’s might on the field.

For the World Cup, Puma created team jerseys with ACTV technology – that is, strategically-placed bands of Active (ACTV) tape. Made from a silicon material, the ACTV tape works with the player’s body to enhance performance, depending on where it lays on the body. For instance, tape along the back of the shirt is said to improve posture and stability.

Adidas’ f50 miCoach is smart footwear, that has a sensor inside the base of the shoe to track how the player moves their feet, how far they run, how fast and for how long. The accompanying app stores all the data, which can then be used to inform training routines.

Impact Awareness


Shown at CES 2015, Linx IAS is a sport impact monitor to be worn under helmets in contact sports. The sensor will send data to a mobile device, and coaches will know when a hit reaches dangerous thresholds almost immediately.

Also shown at CES 2015, was D3O, another piece of tech focused on impact. This smart material is suitable to any sport that has impact – basically all of them. The material – a goo-like substance – called a Non-Newtonian material, maintains a soft form until impact when the molecules come together to absorb the shock. Easily molded, the material could easily be found in sports helmets to knee pads.

On the field on Sunday, Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady will probably be wearing special tape to help him throw better, while Seahawks’ quarterback Richard Wilson may be running through all the plays he discovered after training with GPS trackers on.

In this hyper-technological age, it is no longer just about the players and their skills but about all the data-gathering and analytics that lead up to this day. In the sports world, you may only be as good as your last game, but the data lives on and performance is only getting better.

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