The wearable, data-driven future of the Pan Am Games and other sports events

Athletes are already keeping a variety of technology tools closer to their bodies than ever before, but a MaRS event shows even more on the horizon

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From training to broadcasting to the fan experience, major changes are coming to every aspect of sporting events, thanks in large part to wearable technologies and big data. While the challenges of bringing sports into the 21st century are unique, the lessons in adapting to changes in technology are universal.

Leaders in the sports and wearable technology industries gathered at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto in early July to discuss some of these issues as well as innovations coming to the sporting experience. Here were some of the key takeaways.

Assistance Versus Surveillance   

While wearable technology provides athletes, coaches and trainers with vital information that was previously inconceivable, there remain concerns that these technologies will be used for surveillance more than assistance.

“There’s a large stigma in the locker room around wearable tech. Is wearable tech being used to our advantage, or is it an ankle monitor?” said defensive lineman for the Hamilton Tiger Cats and business development for Ryerson Sport Innovation Brian Bulcke. “Coaches want to know when you’re going to sleep, when we’re going out, they’re keeping tabs on you.”

Bulcke adds that while the advantages to athletes are immense, including injury prevention and physical development, athletes remain wary of embracing these technologies due to privacy concerns.

Connected Devices Are About Disconnecting

The key to winning the wearable technology game hinges on developers’ ability to provide a product that is passive and non-invasive. For example, former competitive swimmer and CEO of TritonWear Tristan Lehari developed a non-invasive piece of hardware that connects to swimmers’ goggles and tracks a wide variety of metrics including lap speed, distance per stroke, stroke rate breathing patterns and turning time. All of this information is available to coaches in real time via a tablet app, as well as online. The goal, he said, was not to inundate coaches with information, but to free them from having to monitor stopwatches, put down their clipboards, and concentrate on the athlete’s performance.

The Human Body is the Ultimate Machine

While connected devices are helping coaches, athletes and trainers quantify every aspect of an athlete’s physical condition, at the end of the day more trust needs to be placed on humans than technology.

“The athlete knows their body the most,” said two-time Canadian Olympic sailing competitor Greg Douglas. “When I was at my peak training, everything I did, if I went to bed five minutes late I knew my performance would change. That feedback loop, we don’t need machines for that.”

Image via We Are Wearables Toron

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