Sports wearables may become the next booming market segment because of their role in Leicester City’s Premier League victory. Their joyous, uplifting victory will go down in history as one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, moment in sports history. A team of no-hopers making their way to the pinnacle of their sport is the stuff movie franchises are made of.
As analysts scrambled to unpack the mystery behind the phenomenon, one of the most intriguing statistics to emerge was Leicester City’s startling injury rate. The team had the fewest injuries and used the least players over the course of the 9-month season, especially remarkable since they were competing with teams with more money, often much more, and larger rosters.
There you see Leicester City, an incredible outlier at the bottom left of the graph.
The management attributes that in large part to their use of wearables. In the 2015-2016 season, their players wore Catapult GPS vests to track their workload. By analyzing the distance players ran, their acceleration, their turning, they were able to determine whether they were at risk of injury. Players can then be rested appropriately. This is a godsend for managing a team’s most important players, and ensures they are at their best when it’s most needed.
With Leicester City’s victory garnering so much attention, it’s inevitable that other teams will look to replicate their success, and eke out every possible advantage to stay on top. And it’s already started happening. A look at the client list for Catapult sports shows a who’s who of world sports teams. In the future, the best teams may be the ones who use wearable data most effectively.
In fact, as former Leicester fitness and conditioning coach, Darren Burgess added: "Quite often sports science is not used to its full potential but we've seen the results at Leicester and I would be stunned if other teams don't jump on board."
"That's why I've been supporting Leicester like my first team. This is one of the biggest upsets in the history of world sport and, hopefully, it will change some of the beliefs in football about the impact good sports science can have."
Wearables around the world
The motusBASEBALL is primarily used to prevent a common baseball sports injury, the UCL ligament tear, by detecting the strain on the ligament during pitches. The Zephyr Bioharness works similarly to the the Catapult GPS vest, by tracking heart rate, heart beat (R-R) intervals, breathing rate, posture, activity level, peak acceleration, speed and distance, and GPS location of the athlete.
Cricket has used wearables both for entertainment and for skill development. In some forms of the game, players are hooked up to ear-pieces, heart-rate monitors and step counters, allowing them to speak to commentators during the game and have their data shown on the big screen as another player metric.
Recently, the Australian Cricket team has started using similar wearables to the MLB to help manage the workloads of their players.
There have already been studies showing that wearable usage can significantly improve athlete performance. A study by Whoop on 119 college basketball athletes, found that, in 4 months of using the device, athletes experience 60 percent fewer injuries and average sleep time increased by 42 minutes, along with lowering stress levels, and caffeine and alcohol consumption.
Improvements like these means everyone wins. The athletes win because they get injured less often. The fans win because they get to see their favourite players more, and teams win because they have their best players available more often. And of course, broadcasters win because the best players attract more eyeballs, meaning more money.
And that’s before we get into the sports performance management aspect. Athletes will have access to a mass of data about their bodies and performance, ideally leading to greater insights into peak performance and how to maintain it.
Not to say there won’t be challenges to overcome. Safety and fairness concerns are already being voiced. What if a wristband hits someone in the eye? What if coaches see something in the data which alters the course of a game?
As a result, the NBA recently banned a wearable after an athlete was spotted with the device during games. and even in the MLB, wearable data can only be used outside of games.
In addition, who should own the data? The player, the team, the league, the companies themselves? How private should the data be and what potential safeguards might be required? Should the data be allowed for marketing?
The caution is understandable. As with any new development, administrative bodies would rather be safe than sorry, doubly so when there’s a risk of harm, physical or otherwise, to athletes. However, as wearables become increasingly common, we should see the issues being ironed out.
The path ahead
When wearables achieve mainstream adoption among the top leagues, it’s not hard to imagine them mushrooming across the the world and being used by university and school athletic programs, even at the lowest levels.