“Things are evolving every day.” Such a common phrase today.
The competition is always increasing, everyone’s looking for ways to improve. Athletes and the cadre of professionals who surround them are always looking for an edge over their opponents. Advances in technology have now made a whole new class of information readily available to athletes, coaches, trainers, and even fans. It’s called biometrics, the science of measuring and analyzing data collected from the body, such as heart rate or hormone levels. Biometrics is not new to us but the advanced features are indeed intriguing.
One area impacted by biometric data is athlete safety. For instance, biometric gloves have been obligatory racewear for F1 drivers since 2019. The gloves are equipped with a pulse oximetry sensor to measure heart rate and blood oxygen during races. The data are transmitted directly from the cars to nearby medical teams, allowing them to monitor drivers’ vitals remotely during the race and access life-saving information in the event of an accident.
Other biometric devices are designed to prevent injuries and maximize training. In 2016, the Playing Rules Committee for Major League Baseball approved two biometric devices for these purposes: The Motus Baseball Sleeve measures stress on pitchers’ elbows, while the Zephyr Bioharness monitors heart and breathing rates. The hope is that these technologies will help detect habits that could lead to injuries.
Individual athletes have also been exploring biometrics to inform their training in various sports including football, basketball, track and field, cricket, squash and more.
Leslie Saxon, executive director for the USC Center for Body Computing, studies human performance at its extremes, in elite athletes as well as military populations. She says the goal of the work is to help high performers function better, longer, and without injuries.
“We’re not just trying to preserve an individual in the short term,” she says. “We want methods that will preserve that individual into their post-elite athlete life. One has to think about what is going to ultimately affect the health of that individual—including their nutritional, emotional, and cognitive needs—over the long term.”
Of course, there is the concern that the boom in new apps and wearable technology has resulted in many unproven and untested products. There is an assumption that the devices will provide information directly related to athlete performance, but more data do not always translate to more useful information. Trainers and coaches need to know how to interpret the data and what actions to take based on it.
Experts predict that interest in and adoption of biometrics will continue to increase as the technology advances. Costs will go down and more options will become available to athletes and leagues.
It is being said that athletic trainers and conditioning coaches, will have to become better educated about these products and what they can do. “At this point, the technology is new and exciting and it seems like any technology is adding something of value,” Saxon says. “Instead of just saying, ‘Wow, this technology is cool and will give us tons of information,’ they will have to look at the value of the information measured and how it will make the athlete or the team better.”
Saxon agrees that for biometric data to be useful, it has to go beyond just data collection. “We can’t just tell elite athletes they are elite. They know that” she says. “They are looking for an edge. We have to be able to deliver something that they, or their coaches, did not already know.”
But biometric data is not just aimed at improving athletes. It’s geared towards the fan experience also. Fans of the Belgian club RWD Molenbeek can now access their home stadium via biometric recognition. The service comes by way of Zetes, and thanks to facial recognition technology from Panasonic. For RWD Molenbeek fans, this means that when season tickets are ordered online, they’ll be asked to upload a selfie. They will then be matched to that image by face-scanning cameras when they come to the stadium for a match, automatically granting them access.
Last October, Aldershot Town Football Club began using Yoti to provide team members with digital player IDs. This made Aldershot the first team in the UK’s English National League to make the switch to digital IDs in a move that will help streamline some of its administrative procedures as part of a broader digital transformation. After downloading the Yoti app, players can now use their phones to present their digital IDs to gain access to restricted training facilities, or to share COVID-19 test results without disclosing any other personal information.
The technology could also be used to facilitate contract signings.
Biometric company Clear was hired by MLS clubs Los Angeles FC and San Jose Earthquakes to expedite entry into the stadiums, developing “biometric-powered stadium experiences, including biometric ticketing and biometric payments for concessions and merchandise purchases,” the company explained in a statement.
Biometric data has the potential to keep athletes safer and healthier, maximize athletic training, augment the fan experience, and provide insights that could win or lose games. And with prospective benefits like those, the rush to collect and analyze biometric data will only increase. Technology is here to stay and improving rapidly. Humans—coaches, trainers, athletes, bettors—will have to become savvier to navigate this new data landscape.
Shaun Fuentes is the head of TTFA Media. He was a FIFA Media Officer at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa and 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey. The views expressed are solely his and not a representation of any organisation. email@example.com.