Technological advancements in sports have played a major role in the improvement of all types of athletic competition.
Consider where sports would be without coaches scouring through hours of game tapes or Adrian Peterson not having top rehabilitation technologies to use after suffering a terrible knee injury. Imagine Olympic competition with athletes who do not have state-of-the-art training facilities to work out in. Sports just wouldn’t be the same. The athletes we love to watch are truly gifted but they all use some sort of technology to take them to the next level.
One of the latest game-changing products to combine sports and technology is from a company called Catapult Sports. They have created a measuring device called OptimEye which helps athletes train harder, play smarter, and decrease the likelihood of injuries. Not to mention, it greatly increases a coach’s abilities to manage his or her athletes from anywhere in the world by receiving real time data.
Boden Westover, the Media and Marketing Manager of Catapult Sports, was nice enough to join us for an exclusive interview to further explain one the newest technological products that is improving athletic performance.
SportTechie: Can you please provide some background about Catapult Sports?
Boden Westover: In 1976, the Australian Olympic team returned home from the Montreal Olympics to face backlash for not winning a single gold medal. After an encouraging eight gold medals at the 1972 Munich Olympics, the Australian government quickly sought to rectify their need for achievement at the international sporting level by directing federal funding towards a world-leading sports institute.
The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) was formed in Canberra in 1981 as a sports training association where the best young athletes from around the country would receive scholarships – which now numbers over 700 athletes each year across 36 programs in 26 sports.
Then in 1990, the Cooperative Research Centres (CRC) program was established to enhance Australia’s industrial, commercial and economic growth through the development of research centres that achieve success in adoption and commercialisation.
Shaun Holthouse and Igor van de Griendt, eventual founders of Catapult Sports, led a large team of researchers towards focusing on emerging micro-technology that was to be deployed in small sensors in ways no one had seen before. After dealing with various industry partners from Motorola to cochlea ear implants, Holthouse and van de Griendt began a project with the Australian Institute of Sport.
Having quickly taken a unique approach to evidence-based science, the AIS began monitoring all facets of athlete physical performance. Measurement of their elite athletes was predominantly laboratory-based because they relied on bringing in their participants to perform on gym equipment – which provided great insight into the demands of elite sport, but because the athlete wasn’t in their natural environment, they weren’t physically exerting themselves in the same way they would on their playing field.
With a desire to move this laboratory-based experimentation onto the field, the CRC developed wearable sensors that made it more accessible to more Australian athletes, and more routinely deployable. And looking to commercialise the product after great success developing technology platforms for the 2004 Athens Olympics, Catapult Sports was born in late 2006.
Catapult Sports has since become the world leader in wearable athlete tracking technology. Working with over 200 world-class sporting teams and institutions in a vast range of sports, Catapult’s technology can measure every physical indicator of an athlete’s movement – from distance to speed, intensity to exertion. Because if you can measure it, you can improve it.
Since its inception, Catapult’s innovations in athlete tracking include:
- The combination of GPS and inertial sensors like accelerometers.
- A multi-player wireless link for real-time coach monitoring.
- Fast multi-hertz GPS to capture the detail of fast moving sports.
- Integrated ball tracking.
- Feature extraction algorithms for monitoring athlete fatigue, game specific events, or repeat high intensity efforts.
- Inertial Movement Analysis technology which measures speed and direction for indoor application.
After extensive collaboration with the AFL, NRL and Australia’s premier sporting institutions, Catapult Sports is revolutionizing sport science application in the English Premier League, as well as soccer and rugby union competitions across Europe. Now moving into the US market, we are rapidly evolving across the NBA, NFL and major US colleges – with over a dozen teams turning to Catapult’s products in the last few months.
SportTechie: What is Optimeye and how can athletes use it to help them increase performance?
Boden Westover: OptimEye is a small athlete tracking device that easily fits inside the middle of your palm and is worn in a small compression top similar to a sports bra that is unobtrusively hidden under an athlete’s game uniform.
The device sends signals to a receiver that is attached to a coach’s computer in real-time, 10 times per second, so that every physical movement an athlete makes is recorded and quantified in an online player database through our innovative Catapult Live software.
OptimEye can measure and collate an athlete’s: distance, velocity, real-time data, comparative graphs, repeat efforts, accelerations, decelerations, PlayerLoad, possession chains, heart rate zones. Heart rate exertion, tactical animations, sleep data, statistics by period, hotspot plots, and speed zones.
SportTechie: Catapult clients include sports teams from football, basketball, soccer, rowing, rugby and more. How can you accurately monitor the performance of so many different types of athletes?
Boden Westover: Even though OptimEye measures athlete performance for a variety of sports, the technology is designed with various accelerometers, gyroscopes, and GPS functionality to provide data that breaks down every movement an athlete makes with respect to their own individualized physical thresholds. This means that the surrounding environment is essentially irrelevant because the technology collates specific information for each player and provides all the data necessary for trainers to use in their own way.
While we pride ourselves on our customer support and assisting teams with how to organize the data provided by OptimEye, the technology is only limited by your understanding of its applications – the real work is done by the strength and conditioning and sports science staff once the data has been collated.
Having said that, unique sports like rowing and baseball – sports that aren’t team-oriented with the objective to gain possession of the ball – are taken into account with specialized OptimEye units that feature their own specialized algorithms to accurately measure unique technical movements in those sports.
SportTechie: How can the data from Optimeye better equip coaches to manage their players?
Boden Westover: The benefits of OptimEye for equipping coaches to manage their players include:
Coaches can make better use of practice time by turning scrimmage sessions into fitness testing. Because coaches need time with players to work on tactical analysis and skill development, and support staff need time to measure physical fitness, OptimEye can combine the two so athletes aren’t overloading in their training schedules and are still meeting all of their physical requirements.
Making practice meet game demands by designing training programs for each individual player based on playing position, match intensity, and playing time. This reduces the likelihood of coaches providing generic programs for all players irrespective of their game requirements.
Making your periodization model work by monitoring an athlete’s physical development. Because teams and players want to peak at the right time of the season, and fitness staff design training schedules based on this linear improvement, OptimEye quantifies this development to ensure the periodization model is being followed accurately.
Remote athlete monitoring for players that are training separately from the rest of the team. Because of OptimEye’s wireless data collection, players do not even need to be in the same country as the fitness staff that is monitoring their progress. This is particularly useful for talent identification for new recruits and for national teams with players spread out geographically.
Tactical analysis for coaches wanting to bring to life their whiteboard by turning the data provided by OptimEye into real-time animations so that athletes can simply follow team structures and movement.
Comparing player performance to decipher which athletes are working the hardest, which need to be more competitive at practice, and to construct training templates based on your best athletes so that new recruits or prospective players have quantified data to work towards.
Rehabilitating injured athletes by building up comprehensive histories of each player’s physical levels and variation in performance. By structuring a controlled rehabilitation program and placing limits on key variables, you can ensure athletes do not re-injure themselves on their road to recovery.