5 Tips for Training with Sports Tech Expert Corner
DECEMBER 5, 2018 By Mick Clegg
Basic low-cost tools like boxing pads, cones, and touch lights can be really useful for customizing training routines to the needs of any athlete. That said, high-end technology is moving fast. Virtually every month new hi-tech gear gets released with the promise to take athletic performance to the next level. Back in my Manchester United days part of my role was to assess the latest all singing and dancing kit available, year on year. I’ve continued that role with Elite Lab because every now and then a piece of kit does come along that is truly valuable, and getting added to the lab’s arsenal. However, the majority of sports tech simply doesn’t cut the mustard. So it’s easy to find yourself spending limited cash on equipment that ends up gathering dust. Here are some rules I’ve learned for assessing what’s going to work, and what’s not.
1. It is Practical?
At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter what a tech can actually do if you simply don’t have time to set it up and run it during real training sessions. As a coach your own mental focus is valuable, and distractions come at a cost in terms of devoting your attention away from athletes. Think about simple things like battery life/charging time, easy to use interfaces, automated programs you can set running, and the ultimate litmus test: can athletes use the tech on their own? When you look at purchasing a tech, check the manual online for real use and reviews online or from anyone you know with experience on how it runs when you’re down in the trenches.
2. Is it Reliable?
As a general rule, the more sophisticated a tech is, the less it will work as intended. Therefore you can find that the more you invest, the greater the risk of it quitting on you when you need it most. In particular, tech’s that are complex from both a mechanical and software viewpoint will be the most unreliable – and repairs won’t come cheap! Generally the more practical the kit is, the simpler and more dependable it will be. Less parts equal less things to go wrong.
3. How New is it?
Cutting-edge sounds great, being ahead of the curve, and the excitement of trying out something that’s never been seen before – like some bionic shorts I tried recently! However be weary of brand new techs. The trend these days is to release products that are still essentially in development, leaving you waiting on essential fixes or software updates needed to make the gear work as you really want it to. Generally it’s best to wait a year after release, then check if there’s a new version on the horizon because that will have a lot of the features that the early adopters have been calling out for.
4. Do you get Results on the Spot?
The success of any training routine depends to some degree on what the athletes themselves feel they get out of it. One of the most powerful motivators is getting results in the moment. To give an example, I’ve been testing out ‘Blast’, an upcoming app from the States which uses a tablet to film a sports drill such as a jumping header, then instantly replays it in slow mo just at the action points with stats overlaid such as jump height, acceleration and rotation. Athletes love it and it fires up their commitment to the session and their competitivity when training in groups.
5. Does it Integrate?
Ultimately the most important thing on this list. A standalone piece of equipment can only go so far. If you can blend it with a variety of aspects or equipment in a routine, then you really take can take training to the next level. This is the sort of synergy I found invaluable with kit like FitLight (e.g. dribbling, boxing drills) and NeuroTracker (e.g. agility, weight-lifting drills), and even both those in combination with each other. Check out blogs, YouTube demos and forums for insights into how existing users having been integrating the tech.