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College Sport Tech

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My name is Sophie, and I am a Division 1 Field Hockey player at Lehigh University. My collegiate athletics experience has exposed me to the use of fitness technology in sports, and allowed me to see how the growing world of digital fitness can truly revolutionize athletes’ performance. With so many new and existing digital products on the market that aim to enhance the ability of sports teams, I am eager to share how they have benefitted me, and aim to learn more about how a range of products benefit other athletes.   

The National College Athletics Association (NCAA) is the largest organization of college athletics. Within the NCAA, there are three divisions, indicating the level of play that they compete at; Division 1 is the highest level with 350 schools competing, followed by Division 2 with 310 schools competing and lastly Division 3 with 438 schools competing. Although the association has been around since 1906, they are continuously adapting to the changing world. Now that digital platforms such as Zoom shape the academic experience, sports teams have sought to implement technology to modernize the entirety of the student-athlete experience. Which technology is revolutionizing the collegiate athlete experience? Here I discuss what technology various Division 1 institutions are utilizing to support a range of successful athletic programs. 

To track performance and help athletes reach their full potential, many coaches have added wearable technology into their training programs. Garmin Watches have been implemented into the training regimen of a variety of sports. This product has impacted my experience in several ways, some of which have sparked some controversy. 

The Garmin Watch is used to monitor mileage and heart rate. This allows coaches to gain an in-depth understanding of each athlete, as well as make adjustments to practice plans based on work rate. Typically, athletes wear the Garmin Watch for every practice, lift, run and game. Following each workout, athletes save their information to an app that shares their statistics with teammates and coaches. In the event that an athlete is not performing at a rate that will allow them and the team to reach maximum potential, coaches will evaluate their statistics and make adjustments to their specific training plan.

Another way this technology is changing the college athletics experience is by monitoring off season training. Fall sports teams, such as field hockey, football and soccer prepare for their seasons by following intense training throughout the summer months, whereas spring sports, such as lacrosse, baseball and tennis do so over winter break. Although some schools invite their athletes to stay on campus to train, many opt to go back to their hometowns. Teams that use the Garmin Watch ask their athletes to wear the watch while completing the daily workout outlined in their training packet. Athletes save their workout in an app where all teammates are able to access each other’s workout statistics. Although NCAA rules don’t allow for coaches to monitor this information over break periods, teammates utilize the technology to hold one another accountable for completing each workout to the best of their ability. This ensures that off season training is taken seriously in order to be well prepared for the upcoming season. This was also a useful tool while students were sent home for a long period of time due to Covid-19. 

If you were a competing student-athlete, would you want your workouts to be monitored in the off season? Many athletes say no, as it increases the pressure to perform year- round and can increase stress to unnecessary levels. Others say that they feel as though they would form better relationships with teammates and coaches if they had mutual trust that they were following summer/ winter workouts. Are there more costs than benefits?

Another company, Catapult, has taken wearable technology for athletic teams to the next level. This company has created a series of products of ranging costs, designed to help athletes reach their full potential. The company offers wearable technology, video analysis and performance data. Their three wearable products are worn as an attachment in a sports- bra like harness, and athletes wear them during all forms of physical exercise. Catapult One, the least expensive of their wearable devices, is utilized by several teams at the collegiate level. This product is programmed to be sport- specific, by tracking 10 core metrics, such as speed, distance and sprints. It sets itself apart from other sports technology by providing analytics based on the data obtained for each athlete, and the team as a whole. Coaches are provided with an analysis of each athlete’s workload, benchmark and thresholds. This not only allows coaches to monitor performance, but also helps prevent injury. 

 Aside from wearables, the company created video analysis platforms which are utilized by a range of collegiate sports. This platform is used to tag, edit, analyze and export game film to athletes. It benefits programs by reducing the time coaches spend dealing with film, and increasing the athletes’ engagement in the film. 

Other companies have sought to help student- athletes make gains away from the field or court. Virtual reality has recently been introduced to some high performing NCAA Division 1 teams. Companies like STriVR have created software platforms that enable athletes to practice their sport anytime, despite facility access and bad weather, and without taking a toll on their bodies. This technology has been proven effective in case studies with athletes competing in football, basketball and skiing. Specifically at the collegiate level, quarterbacks, for example, are able to put on the headset and see themselves standing on a field, surrounded by their teammates and opponents and be asked to make a play. This allows for countless repetitions of a specific motion, which translates to on- field play.

As the digital fitness world expands, performance enhancing technology is changing the game for athletes at all levels. Now, more than ever, student-athletes are able to compete to their full potential, while still pursuing an education. We can’t help but wonder: what’s next in the world of fitness technology for collegiate athletes?

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