Editorial: Heart Rate and Vital Stats monitoring in sports!

Fitness trackers have taken the world by storm. HR, Steps, calories, sleep cycles and even rate and
depth of breathing can now be monitored. Quoting from a social media post, “after so many useless trends and fads, is the fitness trend here to stay?” And therein lies the flaw- trends don’t ‘stay’. Lifestyles and behaviours do. And whether the trend is here to stay, it may be too early to say. But whatever may be the case, we are all now more familiar, if not already accustomed, to this monitoring.

Fitness trackers are a different section in stores and websites. All the tech giants have made their own forays into ‘wearable tech’, with constantly updating technology and devices. And now there are a multitude of studies studying the effects of constant monitoring of a person’s vital parameters. Positives, negatives and grey areas all abound.

This takes special importance when it comes to athletes. Studies show considerable effects of stats
monitoring and the effect of monitoring during training sessions of athletes. But this article is a
thought-provoking nudge in a slightly different path- Stats monitoring during matches, in real time.
We may be getting slightly ahead of ourselves, so first, some background.
The technology was used at the 2017-18 PSA Dubai World Series Finals and at the 2018-19
championship, Professional squash officially debuted real-time, biometric data monitoring in players.
Yes, in a live game.

Sporttechie reported The Tournament of Champions, which was held in New York, saw the PSA team
up with Sports Data Labs to capture athlete performance data, specifically heart rate, using a sensor
that the squash players wore on their chests.
“As revealed by Forbes magazine, squash is the world’s healthiest sport and we’re excited to be able
to demonstrate the hard work and sheer athleticism needed to compete as a professional squash
player,” Lee Beachill, the COO of PSA,had said in a statement. “Squash is one of the world’s most
physically demanding sports and the data captured by Sports Data Labs will help to highlight the
incredible fitness and endeavour that our athletes showcase every time they step on to court.”
The PSA also made another technology deal with a company called interactiveSquash, which
provided technology to track a number of performance metrics in real-time at February’s Swedish
Open, specifically motion tracking of the players and ball. The system — called MoTrack — used
cameras and sensors capture player speed and distance covered, as well as ball speed and trajectory off the front wall of the glass squash court. They also track momentum and hot zones.
The paparazzi culture that follows elite sportspersons is no secret. You love them, hate them, follow
every minute of the game (and their lives) with them. Is it a surprise that now their vital stats may
also become a viewing spectacle? Or is it slightly too personal to be made public, even if you are a
public personality, as some might say.


Rationally, let’s look at the positives-
1. Real time monitoring:

a. this can show effort required during the match, with implications on conditioning and deconditioning;
working on weaker areas identified through the stats monitoring;


b. making decisions of play depending on real time data and not according to the coach’s discretion, or even the whims of star players;


c. game pressures can be worked upon for individual players, by sports psychologists who will then
know exactly what are the triggers for a player;


d. tailor-made and individualised training plans exactly based upon real-time match data and medical
stats for each player.


Negatives-
Isn’t there already too much pressure at the highest levels of any game?,
The focus on data may not be useful.

Rather,

a. It may just lead to unfair comparisons between players,


b. Serving no purpose because of all the personal variabilities;


c. Increased commercialisation of the sport (like there isn’t enough already);


d. Taking the focus away from the crux of the game and increasing distractions for the audience;


e. A further addition to the ocean of player stats and game stats, all of which may/may not matter
when it comes to the common man watching his favourite player and supporting his home team.

This may well be a different twist to all of us living vicariously through the exhilaration of sport,
made evident by live monitoring and display of all the things that can be measured during games.
Comparing bowlers’ speeds, wicket-taking abilities, a batsman’s run rate, goals scored by a
footballer, baskets scored by a basketball player, so on and so forth, are not new. But what about
comparisons of physical attributes? Does that sound like something that could be a rational
comparison? Or even a fair one, given its genetic basis?

A lot of team sports do use tracking technologies for stats like heart rate (HR) monitoring, and GPS
data collection to show distance covered/run. The usefulness of this data is highly documented and
helps not just the players, but coaches and the whole of the support team to individualise training
plans, nutrition, coaching as well as recovery, rest and rehab schedules.
However, this data is not in the public domain.

What if it were? Would it make a difference?
Would you support a different player or team based on HR stats?
Also, and more importantly, how would this affect the experience of the regular viewer? Dampen it
or amplify it?

Sports enthusiasts cannot be unanimous when it comes to a single answer. The vital stats may be
well and good for the medical team and for athletic development, but would it really matter to know
the batsman’s heart rate when all you need is a boundary shot on the last ball of the over?
This may be as subjective as it gets. No viewer is the same, no consumer (as sports watchers may be controversially described as) has the same taste as another.

While one may love knowing the heart rate of a footballer when he attempts the nail-biting free kick, some might argue they’re better off not knowing. While it may add to the experience of the tense, final minutes for some, it may take away from the personal experience of the game for others. Is stats monitoring a good thing?Definitely. Is making this data, public, necessary? The jury’s still out on that, but for lack of a better counterargument, the cons outweigh the pros here.


Thank you for taking time out to read this article. It is going to be a part of a bigger genre where we explore physiotherapy from a practical and management aspect. We cannot cover all the sports because of time restrictions, but if you guys liked the article and want us to break it down for each (or any requested) sport, mention it in the comments below. The figures are not validated by research(unless stated/cited otherwise), albeit are based on author’s personal knowledge and practical experiences in team management.

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