Technology in Sport


This aspect of the AQA A2 specification is difficult to teach because of the lack of resources available in an ever-changing area of interest. The specification requires ‘Candidates to understand the advantages and disadvantages to the performer, coach, official, spectator, sport and World Games of technology’.

One definition of what’s involved comes from the University of Ulster:

‘Sporting technologies are man-made means (methods), developed to reach human interests or goals in or relating to a particular sport. Technology in sports is a technical means by which athletes attempt to improve their training and competitive surroundings in order to enhance their overall athletic performance.’

In other words technology is used by performers, coaches and officials to try to improve performance; it is used to enhance the experience of spectators; it can be used to improve a sport.

What sort of things are we actually talking about?

Time for a question – Using examples, identify four areas of technology that can be used to improve performance. (Answer at the end of this article)

What are the benefits of advanced sporting technologies?

Recent developments in sporting technologies have created a variety of products aimed at improving and increasing athletic performance. The health and well-being of performers can be maintained and observed, and injuries treated, through the production of technologies such as heart rate monitors, pedometers and body-fat monitors. The use of these has given individuals greater knowledge of the body and its ability to absorb exercise, which in turn has allowed athletes to train and compete in sports to a much older age. The safety of those involved has also be helped through the development of certain sporting equipment, such as helmets and body protection which are used for example in cricket and hockey to help prevent injuries. Modern sporting technologies have also made officiating easier and more accurate, and spectator interest and excitement is enhanced by broadcasting and in-stadium displays or scoreboards.

Tricky question – What advantages to the spectator of developments in technology? Answer at end

How can technology be used to enhance athletic performance?

Sports equipment such as clothing and footwear needs to be user-friendly and include valuable properties such as strength, flexibility, toughness, resistance to moisture and more importantly cost. Footwear is generally chosen more for comfort (fashion?) and injury avoidance rather than performance enhancement, whereas clothing such as the full body suits used in cycling may be justified in activities where winning or losing is measured in hundredths of a second. Sporting equipment such as the composite tennis racket has been created in order to provide increased ball speed, and reduce the potential for injuries at the elbow joint. In golf, the overall mass of the club has decreased which is believed to result in a greater achievable distance and possibly a more accurate shot.

Prosthetics have also been made for those athletes with a specific disability. Examples include the prosthetics worn by those athletes without a lower limb, which acts with a ‘springboard’ effect where with each step the device returns energy and permits running gait. The reduced mass of the device makes it firm yet supple for sprinters, and provides some shock absorbing properties for marathon runners. Wheelchair devices used in sporting activities have also become more sophisticated, for example, with sharply slanted back wheels in tennis to allow the player to move swiftly across the court from side to side.

Nutrition and Fitness are probably the most important features which can affect an athlete’s performance in sport. Technology such as software programs are being used to monitor and analyse an athlete’s nutrition and fitness levels in much more accurate ways than previously.

Another question – What are the advantages to the performer of increased technology? Answer at end

How can technology be used to analyse athletic performance?

Technologies such as ‘smart’ equipment can be used to measure performance. These include devices used for exercise stress testing and cardiovascular assessment, human reaction time and frequency of movement meters, and devices such as force platforms that measure the characteristics of jumping and running. More modern technologies such as motion capture analysis are also used to analyse performance. This involves digitally recording on cameras, the movements of athletes during sporting activities which can then be used for evaluation by the performer and/or their coach, or for enhanced spectator entertainment.

Question – In what ways can a coach benefit from the use of technology? Answer at end.

What are the ethical considerations surrounding the use of technology in sports?

The use of modern technologies in sport may mean that competition at the highest level is only available to those athletes/countries who can afford/supply it. In those sports involving individuals with a particular disability, there are different ways in which assistance can be given. For example, modifications to buildings can be made to make them wheelchair accessible, specialised equipment can also be produced and training given to provide specific assistance to those with a disability. Technology can also be detrimental with such things as the development of ergogenic aids, especially where cost is an important factor. This could mean that only the wealthier performers/countries have access to the highest quality equipment.

Question – Using examples, suggest the potential disadvantages of increased technology in sport? Answer at end

‘Hawkeye’ and Goal-line technology

‘Hawk-Eye’ was first introduced into cricket in 2001. Originally it was only for the benefit of the TV audience as it could track the trajectory of balls in flight. But since 2008 it has been used for referring decisions to the third umpire if a team disagreed with a decision. Similar technologies are now in use to help officials make the correct calls in Tennis. In rugby (Union and League) the officials are able to refer try-scoring incidents to a ‘4th official’, who can watch replays before advising the referee whether a try should be allowed or not.
In football, goal-line technology has recently been introduced to give a clear indication to the referee as to whether the ball has crossed the line or not.

Final question – Discuss the suggestion that the increased use of technology to help officials make the correct decision has improved the sporting event.

Areas of technology that can be used to improve performance

1. Equipment, e.g. tennis rackets/cricket helmets
2. Clothing, e.g. lycra shorts/lightweight protection
3. Footwear, e.g. running shoes/football blades
4. Surfaces, e.g. all-weather/artificial pitches
5. Facilities, e.g. sport-specific venues/climate control,
6. Cameras, e.g. photo-finish/action replay
7. Computers, e.g. storage of information/match analysis
8. Software, e.g. technique analysis/dartfish

Advantages of technology for spectators

1. Increased experience at home through use of more cameras/player cam
2. Wider range of sports accessible/visible through technology eg glass walls in squash
3. All-weather surfaces – improved skill, truer bounce, multiple fixtures
4. Improved camera technology eg Hawkeye
5. On-screen information/interaction eg shots on target

Advantages of technology on performers

1. Increased knowledge of diet, eg carbo-loading
2. Supplementation eg creatine
3. Faster rehabilitation eg O2 tents, hypobaric chambers, ice baths
4. Improved testing to provide feedback on effectiveness of training programmes
5. Improved analysis of performance, eg match analysis, GPS data
6. Advances in stress management techniques
7. Equipment designed for individual needs
8. Facilities to recreate environments, eg. Humidity chambers
9. Instant feedback on performance, eg heart rate monitors
10. Advanced clothing/equipment design, eg lycra suits/prosthetics

Benefit of technology for coaches

1. Video analysis of matches to highlight strengths/weaknesses and or tactics/strategies
2. Video analysis of technique – dartfish
3. Detail analysis of success of nutrition/training programmes
4. New training techniques/equipment to improve performance
5. Specific/detailed recording of performances/split times

Disadvantages of technology

1. Could lead to increased injury or violence/shorter careers
2. e.g. from bladed boots / use of rugby shoulder pads / players bigger / fitter / more powerful
3. May lead to cheating / violence
4. e.g. drugs
5. Can disrupt or slow down ‘game’
6. e.g. time taken for playback
7. Could be an unfair advantage / be expensive / be dependent on sponsor
8. e.g. technology not equally available to all such as high tech bikes
9. Reduces traditional ethic or nature of sport / can lead to ‘win at all costs’ ethic
10. e.g. use of high tech equipment at junior or local level / TV or internet or modern media that has made sport a global ‘product’

Increased technology to help officials make the correct decision has improved the sporting event.

Advantages

1. Ensure correct decisions are made/fair competition/less controversy/players more confident in decisions;
2. Helps officials communicate with each other;
3. Less pressure on official to make the final judgement/less post-match criticism;
4. Timing/measurement accurate;
5. Creates excitement in crowd waiting for decision/allows players to officially challenge decisions;

Disadvantages

6. Officials using technology can still be wrong/technology can’t be used for everything/officials are an integral part of the sporting contest/over reliance on technology/lose respect of official’s decision being final;
7. Specific technology used must be accurate/high level of reliability ;
8. Changes the nature of the sport;
9. Cost limits use of technology at events/not consistent for all players or spectators;
10. Breaks in play can be disruptive for spectators if too long;

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