With the return of many of the world’s most exciting sports competitions in 2021, the industry witnessed wider adoption of technology amongst organizations, clubs, coaches and athletes. As we transition into the new year, Catapult reached out to esteemed University of Birmingham Sport Sciences Professor, Dr Tom Browlee, to outline the 5 trends we will see in 2022:
1. Increased use of data in sports broadcasting
Data is already being used to supplement reporting by sports broadcasters, but we still have yet to see all its use cases play out. In track and field, we see throwing and jumping distances superimposed on our screens; in the NFL we see the required yardages; and most recently, we’ve seen the live speed of F1 cars and the pattern of penalty kicks by rugby players.
Broadcasters using data can give viewers a bigger picture of what’s going on during games. The sports and leagues that haven’t been benefiting from this feature will start to invest in it more to keep fans engaged, especially with the possibility that stadia will not be filled to capacity due to pandemic measures. However, with more data comes more responsibility, so privacy concerns will remain paramount in business decisions around data use in broadcasting.
2. Virtual reality becomes critical coaching tool
Virtual reality has continued to creep into more aspects of our lives, and sport is no exception. As the technology advances and more use cases emerge, the sports industry will see more investment in VR. For example, the company Rezzil in the UK is using VR to provide hyper-realistic skills training for soccer players and other athletes, allowing for tactical awareness to be honed from anywhere.
VR could also allow real game events to be replicated so coaches can adjust plays based on reality. VR will also become a more common solution for players recovering from injury. For fans, the combination of drone camera capabilities and VR means they may be able to enjoy the best seat in the stadium without ever leaving their couches! This is another trend that will see further tailwinds if social distancing or lockdown measures are imposed again.
3. Wearables simplify data & predict performance
We will continue to see new metrics being added to the list of data points wearables can provide in 2022. This will include greater use of live blood glucose monitoring, which will aid fuelling and adaptation strategies, heart rate variability to aid recovery, and subjective measures to assess mood.
What is going to be especially novel this year is the continued aggregation of this data. Apps will begin to bring these metrics together and likely lead to a single score as a whole for athletes. This will also include sleep metrics, which will continue to improve as we become able to measure them in less invasive ways. In professional sports, this will provide coaches with more data than ever to understand the load an athlete has experienced, prescribe what should be done next as a result (should they be training or recovering), and the holy grail – predicting what might happen next.
This data could also be used to provide younger players with benchmarks to aim for when considering their own long-term athlete development. From a commercial and fan engagement point of view, if teams and leagues decide they are comfortable sharing some of this data publicly it will be another engagement tool as fans see how they measure up to their heroes on the pitch.
4. Concussion awareness impacts all sports
Safety will continue to be at the top of the agenda for all teams and governing bodies–not just with regard to managing the spread of illnesses, but also with preventing concussions.
This year we will see further results from a number of high-profile research studies looking into the incidence and implications of concussion in sports from American football, to football, rugby, AFL, and others. There is mounting evidence that head impacts leading to concussive events (the brain being shaken inside the skull) or many smaller impacts leading to an accumulation of sub-concussive events has extremely serious long-term effects.
The number of athletes having to retire following such events or retired athletes reporting dementia-like symptoms is on the rise. As a result, the use of wearable technologies, such as instrumented mouthguards from companies like HITIQ, enable us to better understand when such impacts have occurred and how severe they have been.
This will hopefully lead to a decline in concussions in the long term and ensure that even the smallest-looking incidences are not overlooked. This will feed into policy shifts around return-to-play protocols to ensure no athletes are coming back to potentially dangerous situations sooner than they should. As a whole, increased awareness and advances in athlete monitoring will enable players to be far better protected and stay healthy longer.
5. Cold showers are here to stay
One thing that will definitely not go away in 2022 is the influence of sports stars and celebrities on our daily habits. Throw in the rise of influencers, and it seems we’re being bombarded with ways to live better from all angles, whether it’s supplements, apps, or the latest sports tech to “life hack” us ever closer to perfection. 2022 will be the year of looking after ourselves, and most of us need it.
For the sports industry, this will mean a larger focus on rest and recovery. Ice baths and cold showers will certainly be a part of this. Cold plunging as a trend was pioneered by Dutch motivational speaker Wim Hof, and has seen widespread adoption by a band of professional athletes and celebrities. Cold plunges are supposed to improve sleep quality and circulation, and accelerate recovery. It is also claimed to increase energy levels, improve mood, relieve stress, and even enhance creativity.
So, should we all be taking cold showers in the new year? Well, the science is mixed. Sudden cold exposure (if your doctor says you are well enough to handle it) can lead to hyperventilation. However, if you can calm your breathing through that initial phase you will likely experience a positive chemical dump of serotonin and dopamine, which could explain a lot of the claimed benefits.
We also see the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which can reduce the innate immune response leading to reduced inflammation. That might be where the improved recovery comes from. There is not enough scientific evidence to definitively say cold showers or ice baths will grant all the benefits its supporters swear by, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it as long as you’re being safe.
Dr Tom Brownlee is an assistant professor in Applied Sport Sciences at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom. His research interests include strength and conditioning and nutrition in which he has published a number of peer-reviewed papers. He achieved his PhD while working at Liverpool FC as a sports scientist and has gone on to consult for a number of brands in the UK and abroad.