Improving the Performance of Tomorrow’s Athletes
Coaching programmes for elite athletes rely on detailed and highly accurate performance measurements. In training sessions, coaches make use of information such as continuous speed profiles and information about body movements and require millisecond accuracy. Coaches and athletes need this information as soon as a sprint is over to enable them to identify the positive as well as negative aspects of athlete performance and adjust their training strategies if necessary. With London 2012 approaching rapidly, it is vital that such data is available to the coaches and athletes in order to improve the likelihood of success.
Although a few UK sports centres own commercially-available equipment for monitoring athletes’ performance, the equipment is very expensive (some costs US$3K per metre per lane!). Such equipment (see Fig 1.) is not used regularly by the coaches due to the time-consuming setup process and the fact that current technologies only monitor one athlete at a time. In other words, only partial performance data is available, and coaches do not have access to detailed performance data when the athletes are competing against each other.
Prof. Stephen Hailes’ and Dr Lawrence Cheng’s team at UCL Computer Science led a multi-disciplinary project from 2007 to 2010 working with elite UK athletes, coaches and sports scientists. Together, they have developed a cutting-edge, low-cost, sensor-based system to provide just what coaches need using state-of-the-art technologies. The innovative system is the first and only system in the world that is capable of capturing accurate and detailed performance data, automatically analysing results and immediately feeding the information back to coaches and athletes through a user-friendly web-interface. The system is now permanently installed at one of the UK regional performance centres and it is already helping to enhance the performance of elite athletes as well as those who have been identified as having world class potential. Our system has gained major international recognition, including winning a prestigious technology innovation award in 2010 from the European athletics governing body, European Athletics.