Technological advances change our lives on a
A decade ago, who would have thought you
could watch your favorite television show while
hailing and paying for a cab ride home, all
from your cellphone?
This system can track all the players and the ball with a wireless technology similar to Bluetooth. Sensors worn by players and placed in the ball are tracked by eight to 12 beacons placed in the ceiling and walls of the arena.
During his 15 years of playing professional basketball in his native country of Finland, Harri Hohteri was always looking for ways to improve his game through analytics.
Hohteri, who has a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Helsinki, would listen to coaches tell him what he was doing right and wrong over the years, but he always thought the nuances of his and other players’ games weren’t being told through traditional basketball statistics.
It sparked his innovative mind and led him to found SportIQ, which developed a system that tracks the movements of entire teams – and even the basketball itself.
The SportIQ system, which uses wireless technology similar to Bluetooth, places sensors on all the players of both teams – either attached to a player’s shoe on the shoestrings or sewn into the uniform – and inside the ball to track every aspect of a basketball game. Eight to 12 beacons, which are attached to the ceiling or the walls inside an arena, pick up the signal from the sensors.
It is all synced to a video feed and provides real-time data, which can be monitored with a tablet, laptop or smartphone. And the depth of the information that pours out tosses game film out with the short shorts. It can tell coaches how closely a player was guarded on a pass or shot, or if a player set an effective screen on the play. Did a player complete his boxout on a rebound? The system knows almost instantly. And the numbers would make any statistician salivate: A coach could literally tell that a player was 3 of 7 from the field and all three shots that were made came when no defenders were within 5 feet.
“Basketball is traditionally driven by offensive statistics,” Hohteri said. “But now we can give you better defensive statistics. A defensive player can now tell where the player he was guarding had the ball and how he was guarding him. When defenders switch, you can tell how he defended different players, and that is hard to keep statistically right now. This shows you who you were guarding and when you switched.”
The technology also can tell where players ran down the court on each possession, when and where they had the ball and what they did with it.
The system is designed to give instant feedback. During a timeout, a coach or player can ask to see all the fast breaks on which a point guard was involved; it comes up instantly on video, rather than having to wait for someone to slice up the video.
“I can remember times when a coach yelled at me: ‘You are 6-7 and only have two rebounds,’” said Hohteri, who also played for the Finnish national team. “But I was preventing the other team’s big guy from getting the ball. This can go deeper than traditional basketball statistics and give you more personal feedback about how you are really playing.”
The technological advances have had an impact on
the world of sports, too. Today’s high school seniors
have never known a time when you weren’t sure
if a ball carrier made a first down during a televised
football game – those dark days when
there was no yellow line indicating the spot
needed to move the chains. The technology
was unveiled during an NFL broadcast
Sept. 27, 1998; now football fans
can’t imagine a life in which the
first-and-10 line isn’t clearly
marked on the screen. Innovation
has a way of making
you wonder how you survived
without a certain
gadget or device.
Some conferences are using a wireless communication system to help ease communication between football officials in the 2015 season. All the officials are equipped with a transmitter, earpiece and microphone.
This season, football officials in the Big Ten, the Big 12,
Southeastern and Mountain West conferences are
wearing a wireless communications system made by Vokkero
that allows them to talk to each other and administrate
the game in a timely manner.
All of the officials are wired up to one frequency,
complete with an earpiece and a microphone. When an
official needs to communicate to his team members,
he hits a button or switch of a transmitter that is
attached to the belt line of the official’s pants.
Walt Anderson, the Big 12’s coordinator of
football officials, said the wireless communication
has helped speed up the time the
officials need to administer penalties because
the ball can be put back in play sooner.
For example, if a back judge calls a defensive pass
interference penalty 30 yards down the field, he can relay
the call to the referee through the communication device
rather than run that distance to explain it in person.
“They aren’t having lectures out there,” Anderson said.
“It is just quick communication as needed. It is a great tool
to facilitate our roles as officials. It makes football officiating
more efficient. This technology can help reduce some
of the unnecessary time that can happen in the game.”
Anderson said his league experimented with the system
in eight games during the 2014 season and is now using it
full time in 2015.
Viewers now watch their favorite sports with broadcast tools that show the bat exit speed and launch angles of home runs, or K-Zones that show the position of the ball on each pitch. They can track how a PGA Tour golfer shapes a tee shot, spot if a shot is in or out in a tennis match and track cars in their favorite auto race.
College sports use similar technologies to find improvements and efficiencies on their fields and courts. But as much as technology can revolutionize, it can complicate, as well. While advanced information can enhance a broadcast, it also can lead to questions about whether unfair advantages may be gained. While tracking and measuring enhancements can improve coaching and aid athlete well-being efforts, it can come at a price that for some is just the cost of doing business in a high-tech world, but for others is a luxury beyond their reach.
This technology measures heart-rate data of players and can help coaches make more informed decisions regarding practice and training routines.
Illinois women’s soccer coach Janet Rayfield
can truly say she understands the feedback
Rayfield’s education has covered an array
of science and technology. She has an undergraduate
degree in mathematical science from
the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill,
and a master’s degree in biomechanics from
the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. She
is currently working on a doctorate degree in
exercise physiology at the University of Illinois
Now, as a coach, she applies that knowledge
to her team by collecting and analyzing data.
Her players wear a heart-monitoring device
made by Polar to measure heart-rate data. Polar
also makes devices that can monitor a players’
acceleration and the amount of distance they
have covered in a match through a GPS system.
The data from an athlete’s training and workout
is collected and gives the coach and the athlete
an idea of how energy is being expended.
Rayfield uses the technology to track her athletes’
internal-load factors, like heart-rate data.
She also uses it to track their rate of perceived
exertion – the athlete’s perception of a game’s
difficulty. It allows Rayfield to make informed
decisions about practice and training routines.
“After coaching over 25 years, this is where
the technology has been most valuable,” Rayfield
said. “It holds the coach accountable as to
whether a practice went to the intensity level
that I intended.
It leaves the NCAA’s playing rules committees in each sport to debate whether the next innovative invention should be allowed within the playing rules. While advances are all made with the goal of enhancing a particular sport, the playing rules committees must weigh the options and determine if the use of technology leads to any unintended consequences.
These considerations raise a consistent question: What advances should be allowed in intercollegiate sports?
This device measures how high an athlete jumps in real time. It is also a good way to measure how many times a volleyball player jumps in practice.
Martin Matak had his “aha moment” 20
years ago coaching youth basketball.
His players were always wondering how high
they had jumped while making a play.
“I had an epiphany, and I realized it would
be really neat for those kids to immediately
know how high he just jumped,” Matak said.
The idea led Matak to found VERT, a company
that makes devices that measure how
high an athlete jumped in real time. The
VERT device, which works through Bluetooth
technology, is now being used in women’s
volleyball practices and games.
Mary Wise, the University of Florida
women’s volleyball coach, had her team
start wearing the devices soon after hearing about the product.
Wise believes the VERT product, which can
be worn on an athlete’s body attached to the
shorts or rolled in spandex, is a game changer
for the sport in terms of the health and safety
of the players while also helping to market
the sport to the public.
“Now we understand that, if we have
an athlete put on restricted practice
jumps, we have that covered,” Wise said.
“I will have a better sense of: How many
jumps are too much? How many jumps
did the middle blockers make? Who
jumped how many times each practice? I
look at those numbers every day.”
VERT also can show the fans how
high their favorite volleyball stars leapt
to make a kill or a block – the type of
entertainment that Matak originally
developed the device to provide. Now
in use at about 100 NCAA schools, the
statistics add to the fan experience. Wise
said her team displayed the vertical leap
numbers in real time on the scoreboard
during its Orange and Blue Scrimmage in 2014.
“We have players jumping well over 30 inches in warm-ups, and
that got the crowd excited,” Wise said. “You could feel the buzz in
The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel, the group of conference and campus administrators with representatives from all three divisions that approves all proposals made by the sports rules committees, has discussed whether a uniform policy addressing the use of technology should be created. But the nuances of each sport have prevented that type of umbrella approach.
“It’s good that there are different cultures across sports,” said Jon Steinbrecher, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel chair and commissioner of the Mid-American Conference. “There are different technological applications that are used in different sports. For instance, we have replay in football, but we don’t have replay available in every sport.”
While technological advances can be exciting
to fans because of the world they open, the rules
committees must take a sober look at their sports
when discussing which innovations to embrace.
Does it enhance safety of the athletes? If it is approved,
will it create a competitive disadvantage?
And would a rule addressing a particular technology
even be enforceable?
This system is used in football, ice hockey, soccer and rugby to measure an athlete’s workload during practices and games. The data can be used to help coaches plan practices and workouts so their athletes can reach peak performance.
While he was working on the strength and conditioning
staff at Florida State University six years ago, Erik Korem
made a trip to Australia for an information exchange on sport
science and performance.
One of the tools he saw in action was the Catapult system,
which measures an athlete’s workload during practices and
games, how much distance they are covering and how fast they
are running. It is GPS-based and focuses on analytics, measuring
vital signs like the heart rate while competing and practicing.
The Catapult system is now used by around 35 college sports
programs and another 700 clients around the world in football,
ice hockey, soccer and rugby, among others. It operates with
a device that is about half the size of an iPhone. Athletes can
wear it while they are competing, usually on a strap around
their upper torso, or tucked under their shoulder pads in
“The best thing we do is help athletes reduce soft-tissue
injuries,” claims Ben Peterson, a sports performance manager for
Catapult, based in Chicago. “Most of our clients have found that
in the first year when they start to track and understand where
the stress is being placed on the body, we see 27-35 percent
reduction in soft-tissue injuries.”
Korem vouches for that claim. He said the Florida State football
team noticed even higher results the first year it used the system.
“The season before we finished 9-4, and that team had a lot
of injured players,” Korem said. “The next year we dropped the
injuries by 90 percent and went to the Orange Bowl.”
While the Catapult system shows the workload that players are
undergoing, Korem said a system made by Omegawave also plays
a key role in his work at the University of Kentucky, where he is
now the high-performance coordinator. The system measures
physiological data and determines how an athlete is responding.
In using Omegawave, a player lies in a resting state for three
to four minutes wearing a heart-rate sensor. It measures the
state of the autonomic nervous system, which influences the
function of internal organs and the metabolic system. The
sensor is also connected to disposable electrodes on a player’s
forehead and in one palm to measure the state of the central
The measurements give the athletic training staff and coaches
a picture of how an athlete’s body responded to the workload.
“We can do intelligent planning now,” Korem said. “What it allowed
us to do at Florida State is say, ‘Here is what the workload
of a game looks like, and you could see we were exceeding that
by 50 to 75 percent in practice.’ Maybe it’s not the hitting, but it
is in the running volume guys are doing. It provides coaches an
anchoring point to say how much is appropriate.”
So while new technologies can charge up
coaches and fans who see obvious benefits, those
charged with preserving fair competition must
slow down and question how far the shock waves
of each change could reach. And as new wonders
emerge each year – as microchips increase their
abilities and wireless technology opens new doors
– the discussions become more complex.
“Who knows? In the future, everything could
come to the point where electronic devices are allowed
on benches in all the sports,” said Dan Calandro,
the director of the NCAA playing rules staff in
the national office. “We may look back and see we
were too cautious about technology. Time will only
tell us the answer to that. Our sports rules committees
are considering: How much do you want to
allow on the bench? Is it going to delay the game
because they are looking at more information?”
This has become a trendy technology throughout society. Some college programs are using them to film practice footage, but users should be aware of federal and state laws regarding their use.
One area of technology that
has worked its way into the
trendy mainstream throughout
society is the use of drones.
While they may be best known
for their wartime work, at home
more peaceful uses of the technology
have emerged. In fact,
their use has become increasingly
common at NCAA schools, some
of which are already using drones
to film their practices. The video
captured from the air replaces the need to place a camera on a
high perch to get the overhead view coaches value for breaking
down practice footage.
But don’t expect drones to get off the practice sidelines
anytime soon. While drones can give a coach a camera angle
that was never available in the past, the use of drones remains
a tricky proposition. The Federal Aviation Administration permits
recreational use of drones and recommends they be kept
under 400 feet and in the operator’s line of sight. But commercial
use is another, far more bureaucratic matter. The FAA
imposes restrictions on drone use for civil (nongovernmental)
operations, and while commercial entities can seek special
permission from the FAA to operate a drone, approval can be
an extensive process.
It could only be a matter of time before NCAA sports rules
committees receive a request to seek that special permission
for drone use, where their ability to capture
unique angles of outdoor events could
be invaluable. But the proliferation
of drones will ultimately turn on
whether and how the regulatory
environment evolves to allow
their operation, as well
as the appetite of venue
operators to allow and
control drones within
One of the difficult parts about technological
rules proposals is no one can be sure about what
is coming in the future. How far are we, Steinbrecher
wonders, from the day when a microchip
implanted in a football indicates when a first down
is reached, rendering the traditional chain-gang
measurements obsolete? Could the same chip
indicate when the ball crosses the goal line, wiping
out controversial calls, debates among fans and the
replays that fuel them?
One thing is for sure when it comes to technology
in intercollegiate sports: It will always be a hot topic.
“It is an ongoing and dynamic discussion,”
Steinbrecher added. “It will probably be a neverending
discussion, and that is fine. We live in a
fascinating time in so many ways. As more and
more of this wonderful technology continues to
evolve, people will find ways to have an application
for it in the sports world.”