Sports Tech Wearables And Youth Sports
Over the last twenty years, college sports teams have engaged in a vicious arms race for recruits. Athletic departments spend lavishly on facilities, uniforms, and amenities in order to keep their programs top of mind for high schoolers looking to take the next step.
But a new stadium only means so much when your team is down 50-7 in front of a half-full crowd. College athletic programs are aware of this and many are turning to what has already taken the professional leagues by storm: performance data.
The University of Michigan has embraced analytics and performance data. Seven Wolverines sports use Catapult, which is a GPS device that tracks real-time performance metrics during practices. Leading the adoption by the Wolverine athletic program is Rohit Mogalayapalli, a senior at Michigan, President of the Michigan Sports Analytics Society, and a performance analyst in the athletic department.
For Mogalayapalli, a big priority is setting expectations for the teams he works with when it comes to the wearables.
“People envision Moneyball, thinking we’re going to win a championship right off the bat,” he says. “But it’s not always obvious what problems it can solve.”
Mogalayapalli notes that each staff runs their wearables operation differently, and personalization has been the biggest adjustment. As a Performance Analyst, he focuses on ideas for data visualization and helps the athletic teams hone in on problems they can solve using the wearable data.
While the university only has seven teams using wearables, their usage varies wildly.
“With hockey, we might focus on skating and how much load a player is putting on each leg,” Mogalayapalli said. “If they aren’t hitting balance on their legs, we can work to figure out how we can put it back in balance.”
“Soccer is more based on distance management. We can tell the coaches which drills might accumulate more distance, so coaches can ease the workload of players.”
— Xampion (@Xampion_io) April 9, 2018
For basketball Mogalayapalli said, wearables tracking is more zone-based, and they track workload and shooting.
“Our metrics may show we had an overly hard practice the first day, so maybe going lighter the day after can prevent injury.”
One trend Mogalayapalli notices with team wearables is that some countries outside the US are more inclined to embrace change in the marketplace. Europe and Australia are on the cutting edge of adoption, which in turn leads US teams to keep up with the advancements. The speed with which teams accept new gadgets is also sport-specific. The Michigan lacrosse program’s staff is a big proponent of sports tech, as is the greater lacrosse community. As a result, the lax program has quickly become the fastest adopters in the department.
— Catapult (@CatapultSports) July 4, 2018
On the other hand, the vaunted Wolverines football team has been one of the slowest adopters. Not only does Mogalayapalli have to work with 75 different devices, but the coaches are still reticent to trust the information provided by the wearables.
Trust is what it boils down to for Mogalayapalli and his team.
“Wins and losses aren’t as important a barometer as winning the trust of players and coaches,” he said. “Coaches might have looked at the wearables data before, but important metrics may not be looked at. Now, coaches may ask for tidbits here and there.”
“Wins and losses are measured, but if the data isn’t being used then it doesn’t help our cause.”
Within the next five years, Mogalayapalli sees wearables being adopted by much younger athletes. Once more athletes start wearing them in youth and high school athletics, then wearables become part of the equipment process.
“It’s all about usage,” he said. “Right now, the data is Apple watch driven. GPS data is more powerful and once high school teams adopt it on a broad scale, the more it can be used, the more research performed, and the more we could see a trickle-up effect to the pro teams.”