Sport Techie

Wearable technology is at the heart of a current revolution in the sports industry. This revolution is all about tracking an athlete’s every movement to gather data. In turn, athletes and teams take that data and turn it into insight, technique, and strategy.

“Athlete analytics” is a category within the sports industry that is globally lead by a company named Catapault. As the inventor of sport-specific GPS, Catapault is working with over 300 teams and institutes worldwide.

Catapault offers a range of high-tech devices, but their newest offering may be their best yet. Dubbed ClearSky, the system has no limitations; you name the sport and ClearSky will track it.

Working in unison with Catapult’s Optimeye T5, traditional GPS headaches such as indoor satellite reception can be forgotten. The beauty of this system is that it works anywhere

A Plethora of Data

Local positioning systems, such as ClearSky, have a leg up on their traditional GPS counterparts. The new system uses triangulation to track a player’s every move via nodes. Nodes are small, portable, wireless devices that act as signal “touch points”, so to speak. In other words, the nodes act as satellites within a stadium, constantly sending and receiving signals.

In conjunction with the ClearSky system, the Optimeye T5 is attached to the athletes wishing to be tracked. No need to worry either, because Catapault has designed the device to fit comfortably between an athlete’s scapula.

ClearSky promises several advantages that are valuable to teams, coaches, and organizations: pinpoint accuracy, high update rates, portability, quick setup, no cabling required, and operates in the most severe and dense multipath radio environments. But when this data is gathered, how can teams analyze it?

Catapult’s Product Development Manager, Michael Regan promises that this has been a point where they’ve focused a lot of time, energy, and resources:

“ClearSky interfaces with our new software platform - OpenField, which is a fully re-designed athlete analytics platform. With the shift to ClearSky data that previously took many hours to download and analyze is captured and stored in real time, giving users levels of data customization and interaction that they’ve previously required many hours of set-up and download time after each session to reach.

The OpenField platform facilitates and the potential integration of big data principles and practices, is really exciting and a first for the athlete tracking realm.”

optimeye science tech sports catapult

Optimeye is a Local Positioning System (LPS) for elite sport.

Ease of Use

Of course setup and teardown of the system around the playing field has been made easy. And after the data is collected, it can be used to better understand what is happening on the field of play and how athletes are responding to certain variables.

But does it take extensive training to show teams and coaches what they are looking at in order to create game plans and practices around the gathered data? Michael Regan explains:

“This is an interesting point, because the training that is required is generally more in terms of how data can be applied, not how to “generate” the information. Teams become very proficient very quickly with generating reports and numbers that have the potential to be useful. The real power lies in helping teams understand HOW this data can be useful and how it can evolve practice and thinking.

The aim of our data isn’t to change everything, it is purely to give highly skilled, intelligent and experienced practitioners a tool to measure and quantify accurately something that previously has been left down to skill and intuition. Our data generally confirms 90% of what coaches see and feel. The advantage of having our data is that the arguments from players or other staff members is removed because the data is objective. The other 10% that we show coaches has the potential to challenge previously held notions or opinions, or to augment the “feeling” that coaches have.

The great part of our role is that we have the ability to see what people are doing around the world and our training program/practices quickly evolve from how to make data to how to turn that data into information.

We have hired a team of Sport Scientists and Performance Analysts (one of our Sport Scientists is a Level 5 accredited Performance Analyst with the International Society of Performance Analysts - their highest accreditation) who are able to work in close consultation with teams to establish their goals for analysis and bring about customised reporting and data handling to achieve these specific goals. With their international experience they are also able to, where appropriate, suggest new techniques/application points to take teams’ analysis to a new level.”

On-Field Expectations

Catapault already has a lengthy list of clients utilizing their other products: Seven NFL teams (Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Buffalo Bills, St. Louis Rams, Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins) and six college football programs (University of Kentucky, University of Minnesota, Baylor University, University of California-Berkeley, University of Oregon, Florida State University).

But what about the new ClearSky system? Which teams are already utilizing it?

“We have pilot systems installed in a number of environments and will be expanding these out over the coming months. We have tested the system extensively in American football and have installations in environments that run basketball, European handball, soccer, and Australian football.

ClearSky will be officially launched for purchase by teams in the US following the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston.”

The Human Element

Much to the debate of science fiction, it seems that technology is growing ever-more intelligent. At some point, where does error lie, in the circuits of technology, or on the shoulders of man? According to Michael Regan:

“It really is hard to say. I think the main limitation at this point in time is the fact that the system is so new. The technology is capable of everything that we’ve thrown at it. The limitation at this point in time really is the human element. For example, technically we are capable of being able to group athletes by their geographic position on the field and only report their movement statistics in certain areas/compare them with other areas. This is a revolution in invasion sports and the algorithms don’t exist yet. The sky is the limit with this sort of thinking and application, from enhanced detailed technical/tactical analysis for coaches to broadcast additions and integration we don’t know where the technology will head and it’s a really exciting space to be in.”

It’s impossible to say how deeply technology may become intertwined with sports in the future. One thing ClearySky is proving though, is how important tech can be to the future of sports analytics.

And with the system’s astonishing 15-20cm absolute positional accuracy, the data can be considered reliable for creating game plans, developing practices, and monitoring players. ClearSky even has integrated ball-tracking abilities.

If the sky is the limit, Catapault and their innovative ClearSky system may already be pushing that limit higher. As the sports industry evolves, so does the business behind it. At this point, it’s only right to claim that Catapault is leading the industry into a new frontier.


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