Technology has dramatically transformed our society over the past 20-30 years. Between the internet, smartphones, GPS, data analytics, and AI, we have the tools at our fingertips to change any part of society, the economy, or culture that we want. Disruptors, such as Uber and Airbnb, have used this technology to apply elegantly simple solutions to old industry problems to completely reinvent the way they are done.
In other areas, the changes are happening more gradually, with small pieces of new tech being incorporated into old ways of doing things. In sport, this helps preserve the tradition while slowly improving every aspect.
As an ex-pro basketball player and Olympian, I like to keep track of developments in sports, particularly the use of technology. Here are five areas where technology is working to improve sports…
1. Sports Equipment Design
While computers have been at the forefront of a lot of changes in sport, one of the most significant comes from the world of materials and product design and engineering.
Tennis rackets and golf clubs, for example, have seen some huge technological leaps, using new graphite shafts for better weight to strength ratio. Computers have, of course, assisted with these new designs, improving performance through the use of aerodynamics.
The deployment of new materials, such as kevlar, have also dramatically improved the strength of sails, bicycle helmets, and even football boots. Kevlar is a fibre that is around five times stronger yet much lighter than steel, making it ideal in these heavy-use situations. I see many of these new materials being applied to sports equipment in the coming years, helping to make it stronger, longer-lasting and safer.
Some of these materials have, however, led to some controversy, such as the development of polyurethane for swimwear. So effective was this new material that it was banned after the 2008 Olympics due to offering an unfair advantage. As this technology becomes more widely available and mainstream, however, it may well improve the sport for good.
2. Training & Nutrition
What separates the amateur and pro athletes is training. More and better training will create professional athletes out of even the most modest spark of talent. A lack of or low-quality training will hamper even the most promising of players.
Computer-aided training programmes are now being employed to integrate live data into sports science models to help improve every aspect of the athlete’s performance. A tennis player can improve their services, a swimmer their technique, and footballers their strike rate. What’s more, computers are now beginning to spot areas of weakness and suggest improvements, potentially helping to avoid long-term injuries building up.
Technology has also improved sports nutrition. New technology makes it easier to monitor an athlete’s nutrition, computer programs have improved nutritional advice, and developments in food and drink production allow for very precise nutritional balance as well as new protein bars, energy drinks, etc.
In the future, I see more wearable technology being integrated to utilise live data and provide immediate feedback to athletes and coaches. Training and nutrition can then be quickly adapted to the athlete’s needs, improving performance while helping to avoid future injuries.
3. Engaging Fans
Ever since the rise of professional athletes, there has been a separation between sports players and fans. Matches were screened on one broadcast channel and professional athletes were shielded from fans just like film stars and politicians.
Since then, there has been a proliferation of new ways to watch sport ‒ from HD streaming to watching via betting sites. This has allowed fans to get involved in the action, betting on in-play odds, commenting on streams, and even just seeing more detail of the game.
There have also been now ways for fans to get involved in the action, such as fantasy leagues and in-play betting, engaging fans through personal investment. Fans can also support individual players and teams financially, through sites like Globatalent, as well as trading player-based stocks on sites like Sports Stack and Football Index.
Platforms such as Twitter have also made it easier for fans to connect directly with athletes, getting immediate responses and exclusive opportunities to meet their idols. I believe this interactive element is responsible for the resurgence of interest in sports over the past ten years and is helping athletes to build a business around their sporting career.
Talent and effort should be all it takes to become a professional athlete. Unfortunately, funding tends to be a major deciding factor. Those without the funding can’t afford to take time out from work to train, can’t afford the best trainers, and won’t be able to access the best technology.
Until fairly recently, however, top athletes and teams have taken the lion’s share of funding and sponsorship opportunities. Less well-known athletes along with those just starting out have struggled to get the funding they need to break into the professional leagues.
The good news is that, in recent years, new sources of funding have arisen, allowing fans to financially support clubs and athletes in return for a share of future incomes. Not only does this provide an additional avenue for fans to get involved but it also provides a way for up-and-coming athletes and clubs to raise unrestricted funds, helping them to go pro.
While we’d all like for players to be good sports and professional in their attitudes, we also want to see passion bursting forth through their performance. We want them to push as hard and as far as they can go in order to surprise and delight their fans.
However, the downside to all this passion and performance has been athletes cheating or claims of unfairness in referee decisions. We’ve all been aware of the controversies surrounding goal-line decisions in international football games, for example, and Lance Armstrong’s doping scandal shocked and shook the world of cycling, damaging the reputation of the sport.
Fortunately, however, technology is improving every aspect of fairness in sport. Video referees can now be called on to make decisions using slow-motion cameras at every angle, goal-line and hawkeye technology can now deliver uncontroversial decisions in football and tennis, while anti-doping techniques can now spot a huge range of illegal performance-enhancing drugs before a scandal breaks out.
Not only will this new level of fairness help keep controversy and scandal away, but it will also bring a renewed enthusiasm for sports that have been plagued by unfairness in the past.
We still have some way to go, but now that the technology has been accepted in the sporting world, I believe we will see the rapid adoption of new technologies across every aspect of the sporting world, helping to improve everything.
The progress will be relatively slow compared to disruptive businesses, but by taking a cautious approach I think we will manage to preserve the passion, excitement and tradition that makes sport such an important part of people’s lives.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ferran Martínez is one of the co-founders of GlobaTalent. He is a former pro basketball player for FC Barcelona and the Spanish National Team, led sports entertainment at several private banks and is now a successful entrepreneur. For more information see: https://globatalent.com/