Beyond Patient Care: The Future of Sports Performance and Athlete Monitoring Technology

New advancements and innovations in digital technology are taking athlete performance to higher levels across almost every category and uncover an athlete’s physical, mental and emotional states.
5 min read
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By Valentina Lakhina
Head of Marketing, Healthcare and Life Sciences
Beyond Patient Care: The Future of Sports Performance and Athlete Monitoring Technology

On June 12th, 2021, 43 minutes into one of the first group matches of Euro 2020, a nervous hush fell over the packed stadium as Denmark midfielder Christian Eriksen suddenly collapsed on the field. The ref’s whistle pierced through the air as players from both teams rushed to surround Eriksen’s unconscious form, waving frantically towards the medical crew as they quickly came to the player’s aid. Fans waited with bated breath, wondering what could have caused the emergency, while teammates and coaching staff looked on with heartbreak and confusion etched into their faces.

Soon after, Eriksen was resuscitated with CPR and a defibrillator, and, an hour later, he was stabilized at the hospital. Media outlets reported that 29-year-old Eriksen had been fitted with an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) to monitor his heart rate and regulate abnormal heart rhythms using electrical shocks.

Without the swift response of the medical crew in the moments after his collapse, Eriksen’s life would have been hanging in the balance. And although professional athletes are no strangers to injuries, this incident served as an important reminder. The potential for medical situations is omnipresent, especially in the realm of professional sports.

New advancements and innovations are also taking athlete performance to higher levels across almost every category, from augmented reality and biometrics to bionic enhancements. And with AI and big data, diagnostic and predictive capabilities can even uncover an athlete’s physical, mental and emotional states.

In today’s competitive environment, athlete monitoring and enhancement systems are playing an increasingly integral role in mitigating medical and industry-level emergencies, as well as optimizing athletic performance and training.

Looking Beyond the ‘Traditional’ Patient

Patient monitoring technology is hardly a novel concept; these solutions have several mainstream applications within inpatient and outpatient care protocols. Popular examples of these devices include heart rate monitors deployed at the hospital and fall detection sensors installed in the home of elderly patients.

This is life-saving technology that helps to ensure emergency scenarios are identified and met with the necessary care. However, what about other scenarios? Do sick or elderly patients exclusively experience medical emergencies? As Eriksen’s experience clearly illustrates, the answer is no.

Athletes whose bodies constantly undergo tremendous pressure on behalf of their modality often face heightened risk of an unexpected injury or medical emergency. Fortunately, these incidents could be better monitored and addressed with technology designed specifically for the purpose of monitoring and improving an athlete’s well-being.

Athlete Monitoring: Where Are We Now?

Over the last decade, athlete monitoring has become standard practice as coaches look for data-based metrics and feedback to maximize player performance and reduce the risk of injury. These devices, typically offered in a wearable format, such as a wristband, ring, chest strap, or arm sleeve, use GPS-derived movement data, sensors, and integrated heart rate monitoring to provide valuable insight into an athletes’ physiological response to training. Moreover, they can identify the mental and physical impact of an injury and/or sport-specific stress while making personalized recommendations regarding an athletes’ sleep and recovery regime to accelerate the recovery process.

This use case is well understood and accepted; to remain competitive at a high level, athletes and coaches have come to rely on these systems to provide valuable metrics and real-time analysis. To this effect, FIFA approved the use of portable systems for monitoring athlete performance during matches in 2015, and market predictions suggest that a business volume of 280 million dollars in 2018 will turn to 2050 million by 2024. With this growth, we can expect an onslaught of technological innovation to inform how athletic performance is monitored and optimized while helping to mitigate injury risk and medical emergencies.

The Future of Sport

The continued evolution and innovation of biometric technology for athletic performance will pave the way to an exciting future for athletes eager to avoid injury and prolong their careers. Tom Cheesewright, a futurologist speaking to the future of sports, predicts that in-game player monitoring will be commonplace in football by 2025. Beyond the availability of comprehensive data relating to players’ heart rate variability (HRV), heart rate, hydration levels, core body temperature, respiratory rate, and more, experts note that athlete monitoring systems can use visual recognition algorithms on video footage to unlock additional metrics. Moreover, the use of this video footage will soon empower coaches to substitute players prior to fatigue or injury.

While this is exciting territory, it is important to note that vast amounts of high-level player data often require sophisticated interpretation and analysis. This technology is not to be confused with consumer wearables; consumer-grade devices cannot be used for diagnostics though useful for their respective applications. As this technology becomes more commonplace, coaching and support staff will need the appropriate resources and training to derive actionable insights from the data gathered from players. After all, big data cannot be actioned effectively if it is not first understood.

Moreover, technology vendors will need to seek out opportunities for platform validation on an industry level and create best practices that ensure reliability and precision across software providers. Specifically, these wearables will require certification, preceded by clinical trials, and must not pose a risk to players engaging in a contact sport, such as football or soccer.

Harnessing the power of artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and real-time player data, coaching staff and medical teams can respond to injuries immediately, with a wealth of data ready to be actioned. With this technology, the once overtly unpredictable world of professional sports will benefit from an influx of health and performance metrics that will enhance athletic performance and – more importantly – athlete safety both on and off the field for decades to come.

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