Designing sports technology for optimal performance: Are we hitting the mark?

Ever wondered if the technology we use to shape an athletes’ performance gives the best ability for motor learning? Well in essence that is one question of my PhD research topic. Sigrist and colleagues [1] in 2012 performed a literature review targeted at feedback mechanisms for motor learning. There whole literature review was summed up, might I add brilliantly, by one diagram.

feedback Sigrist

So on the whole is our technologies feedback mechanisms aiding our athletes learning? Probably not. We see coaches consistently using terminal, or delayed, video feedback post session or post game to provide elite athletes a feedback tool to learn from. However as task complexity for an elite athlete is extremely high we see from the diagram the literature proven effectiveness of this feedback strategy is very low.

In this case real time visual feedback can be a great strategy in promoting motor learning. An example of this being done well is the team GB diving team. Their training tools implement concurrent feedback with a range of technologies to arm coaches and athletes with the tools to improve their high divers results. Here’s a really cool video showcasing Professor Steve Haake and the way his team has engineered training solutions – 

In this video Professor Steve Haake sums up by talking about the role of a sports engineer. “At the elite level you need evidence based understanding to get those incremental changes. It’s the job of a sports engineer to take the measurements, to understand it and to impart it back to the athlete and coach so they can be the very best they can”. We’ve crossed the line and in almost every learning process technology plays a significant role. As a sports technology community we need to understand the skill acquisition process to maximise the effectiveness of our technological interventions.

  1. Sigrist, G. Rauter, R. Riener, and P. Wolf, “Augmented visual, auditory, haptic, and multimodal feedback in motor learning: A review,” Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 21–53, Feb. 2013.
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About Jonathan Shepherd

I have always been captivated by the theatre of sport and the pursuit for participants to achieve better. My research area focuses on creating and implementing biofeedback technologies to shape, enhance and optimise the acquisition of motor skills. My research is applied at enhancing elite sport to enable heightened performance, improve athlete safety, improve rehabilitation and increase mass participation.

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