Are Wearables Becoming The Not-So-Secret Weapon In Sports Performance?

There’s no denying that wearable technologies and fitness go hand in glove. From Fitbit to Jawbone Up24 to Garmin Connect, the wearables marketplace is super-saturated with devices that let users track, monitor, and share every step taken, heartbeat pulsed, and calorie consumed. Even Apple is getting in the fitness/wearables game, with the recent introduction of its Health app in iOS 8 and the much-anticipated arrival of the Apple Watch in spring 2015.

While general-interest consumers might still be weighing the use case for wearable devices, the global sports market is leading the pack with its quick adoption rate of wearables. According to Juniper Research, the wearable-device market is expected to grow to $19 billion by 2018, with amateur and professional athletes alike relying on the data generated from these devices to improve performance and prevent injury.

Beyond consumer wearables, tech innovations already are appearing in all sorts of professional athletic equipment. At the National Football League, sensors have been placed in helmets to detect concussions the moment they happen, allowing coaches immediately to pull players from the game following a head injury. Major League Baseball also has a few tricks up its sleeve: MLB has been testing smart compression shirts designed to measure arm movement and analyze technique to determine a pitcher’s strengths and weaknesses.

Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, is transforming the way that sports and technology blend with his NBA franchise. Utilizing discreet and nearly weightless GPS tracking devices under athletic gear, everything from the acceleration to the biometrics of players can be measured and analyzed to improve game performance and strategy. Cuban turned to Australian company Catapult Sports for his team’s wearable sensors. Boasting the slogan, “The most-used secret in sport,” Catapult is transforming the professional sports landscape with wearable monitoring devices that take the guesswork out of managing athletic performance.

The NFL, on the other hand, has employed Zebra Technologies to accurately track the location and motion of players in real time. For the 2014 football season, receivers were installed in 17 stadiums that communicate with RFID transmitters placed inside the shoulder pads of each player to “accurately capture real-time player tracking statistics, such as acceleration and total distance run.” It also gives fans immediate insight into the action on the field.

Sacramento Kings’ owner Vivek Ranadive is another proponent of the NBA 3.0 philosophy; it’s the idea that technology should be used for the betterment of the fan experience. And that it does. Google Glass made its debut on the court with select players, announcers, cheerleaders and even the mascot sporting the high-tech eyewear. Fans were treated to a unique view of the game, while announcers provided real-time feedback based on their up-close and personal vantage.

And the 2014 FIFA World Cup was no exception to the rising tide of tech-driven sports. From tactics to athletic conditioning, the German National Team had it all thanks to the adidas miCoach elite Team System. This cutting-edge physiological monitoring service is comprised of a group of products that collect and transmit information from the athlete’s bodies while they train. The products track heart rate, speed, distance, acceleration and power, and display the metrics live on an iPad. Coaches and trainers were privy to information not previously available, perhaps contributing to Germany’s epic win at this year’s World Cup finals.

Sports science and analytics is a growing field. Whether utilized by professional athletes or amateurs, there’s no denying that wearable technology has found a home on the field, in the arena and on the court.

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