The Rise of Sports Tracking Technology

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Photo by Kamil S on Unsplash
Photo by Kamil S on Unsplash

The old adage of “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” is alive and well in the business world. Analytics are used today more than ever before, with tracking systems built into most websites and specialist software used to monitor workflows in offices, production lines in factories, and sales in shops.

This philosophy has been slowly leaking into other areas of life. One of these is sport, where it’s now possible for the average consumer to go out and buy a whole range of fitness trackers, from general ones like Fitbit which will track your heart rate and how many steps you do throughout the day, through to specialist devices for runners or cyclists like the Garmin Fenix 6X Pro.

 

However, sports tracking technology goes way beyond just counting your steps, monitoring your heart rate and tracking the route you follow while you’re out jogging. A huge industry has sprung up and athletes, coaches and teams look to gain the smallest of advantages over their competitors.

For example, in Formula 1, a team will spend millions of dollars to gain just a tenth of a second advantage over their competitors. Tracking technologies have been one of the factors that have allowed them to do this so methodically, as they track the cars, their drivers, mechanics in the pitlane, and minute factors like wind flow over the tiniest sections of their car’s bodywork.

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash
Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

 

Hawk-Eye

Hawk-Eye is a system that is most famous for its use in tennis, but was first used in cricket and has since been implemented in rugby, hurling, badminton, association football, volleyball, and Gaelic football.

It uses six or seven cameras to track the movements of the ball on the pitch/court, and triangulates its position based on the pooled data. It’s been used in the English Premier League to record whether a ball passed the goal line and in tennis’ Challenge System.

 

Player Tracking

While the Hawk-Eye system tracks the movement of the ball, other systems have been designed to track the players. In the NBA, a system called SportVu was used to record the position of each player, the ball, and even the referees 25 times every second during the game.

 

Individual teams used SportVu to analyse the positioning of players during the game and make recommendations to them on where they could be in a similar play next time.

 

SportVu was replaced by Second Spectrum in 2017, which the NBA uses to collect and report statistics like the speeds players travelled at, the distance they covered during the game, the number of rebounding opportunities, the number of passes, and how many points were generated from assists.

Second Spectrum now also provide similar tracking systems to the English Premier League and Major League Soccer in the US.

 

Casinos

Similar technology to track players is also used in casinos. People who play games like roulette online will expect to be digitally tracked just like they are on any other website, with their activity tied to their online account.

 

However, physical casinos use complex camera systems to track the movements of each person as they move about the casino floor, just like how players are tracked on a tennis court or a hockey rink. This tracking gives the casino managers detailed and comprehensive information about each player’s performance, the games they play the most, and how successful they have been.

 

Tracking for Safety

In the same way that your smartwatch or fitness tracker will monitor your heart rate, several motorsports have begun using a tracking device to monitor the vital signs of drivers.

 

Thankfully, crashes in motorsport do not usually lead to major injuries or fatalities due to improvements in car and track safety. However, when a driver does crash it’s important that they are checked by a doctor as quickly as possible.

 

Trackside medics usually arrive on the scene in seconds, but saving a few extra seconds is precious in such situations. This is why the FIA introduced a biometric glove that reported the driver’s vital signs to the medical car to allow doctors to understand the driver’s blood oxygen level and heart rate before they even arrive.

 

The quest for ever increased performance and safety will continue to drive the development of new tracking systems for sports for years to come. After all, if it can be measured, it can be managed.

 

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