The New Age of Sport

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By Sophia Greaves

Flicking aimlessly through the headlines of the Guardian, the Telegraph, the BBC and the Times, I couldn’t help but notice how our focus on international sport has shifted towards sports technology and away from the individual players themselves. Instead of being bombarded with the long winded ‘Rory Lamont scored two of Scotland’s eight tries as they overcame a plucky Portugal in their opening World Cup match in St Etienne’ (deep breath) or a concise ‘All Blacks defeat Argentina to take the title’ and ‘Federer vs Murray- History up for grabs’ what I received was; ‘Modern demands modern techniques’ and ‘A guide to what Wimbledon big data is all about.’ Is it justifiable for reporting on sport to simply slip away from the games and the stars themselves?  

I’m not saying that technology should not be used in sport. Far from it! Sports science helps athletes ‘reach their peak physical potential.’ Today’s technology has revolutionised sport in itself; enabling coaches and players to ‘understand better and faster what their strengths and weaknesses are.’ In the short term a player can be mentally and physically prepared for their next match, whilst long term technology prevents the risk of a serious injury or developing poor technique.  GPS equipment not only enhances an athlete’s performance on pitch, it monitors a player’s speed and direction and tracks their heart rate; enabling coaches to analyse stress and fatigue levels during matches. Now with coaches effectively using substitutes and specific strategizing aimed towards their opposition, and with players honing in on any minute weaknesses, it is no wonder that the technology behind this is pushing the athletes onto the benches. So how may you ask, could technology distract an athlete, or make them complacent?

It should be recognised that coaches and players alike in international sports teams should have the intelligence, experience and expertise to make such decisions using their own brains. Yes it’s great to have statistics; it’s great to predict opposing team’s tactics; it’s great to analyse player’s weakness; yet a lot of sport is dependent on variables completely out of our control. As much as we dislike it, being human beings we can’t 100% predict the weather or set a team’s drive to win. A player could know that they need to kick the ball 34 degrees greater to the right to compensate high winds that average at 40 miles per hour, but this information is substantially less relevant when they can’t actually practise in such conditions. Also keep in your mind how distracting it would be to have all those facts and figures floating around your mind when you take the shot. Any player is easily liable to focus more on the stats than the shot; distracting them from their natural game. Reliance on technology to influence decisions could also lead to future players and coaches becoming compliant; treating their GSP tracking systems like their personal bible.

To take a very specific example, the New Zealand and South African union rugby teams didn’t even start using advanced forms of technology until 2012 – despite recently winning the World Cup in 2011, and 2007 respectively. Being one of the top teams in union rugby, the All Blacks still use the good old beep test, weight training and set play as the main elements to their training.

So to any aspiring athletes out there, use technology, analyse statistics; hone in on weaknesses to improve your performance and training programme, but please rely on your brain. Technology can only enhance ability, not create it!

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