What Employers Can Learn From The Use Of Technology In Sport

August 25, 2015

In the four years that have passed since the last World Cup there have been monumental leaps forward in the technology used to engage with the sport. We take a look at the technology used by the elite of the sporting world and how these developments can be filtered down to every day consumer and workplace use.

Data + Athlete = Improved Performance

Data is data until you put it in context and unlock it for people - Elizabeth O’Brien, IBM

All industries, sport included, are using data much more effectively these days. Not just because there is more of it, but also in the way that they use these stats to influence decision making. Here are just a few techniques being used in rugby and beyond and how they can be adapted to make our working practices more productive and profitable.


One of the main challenges of international rugby players is that there is an incredibly short off season, especially in a World Cup year, meaning managing injuries and grabbing windows to improve performance through training are small.

Reducing these types of injuries could be the difference between a squad winning and a squad losing a tournament or being promoted or relegated in domestic leagues. To get the best out of an athlete you have to manage their wellbeing and performance, the same applies to employees.

By building up a data profile of an athlete, trainers can predict what is going to happen to them. Wearable technology isn’t too far behind monitoring these types of metrics (apple watch already use a form of it for personal use) it won’t be long before they enter the workplace. The bottom line is, it doesn’t matter how you monitor it, if people feel well, they will perform better. It can keep players on top form on the pitch and workers on top form at their desks.

Wellbeing Sensors

For those of us who like to track our performance when exercising, we’ve all had that time when you can’t get your smartphone attached to your arm band, or your 4G working once you’ve worked out where to put your house key. Luckily elite sportsman don’t need to worry about that. Their GPS kits are built into their tops. Take a look at the Australian rugby player Quade Cooper’s shirt below, the chip sits in the carriage above this player’s number.

Photo of Australian rugby player Quade Cooper’s and the chip that sits in the carriage above this player’s number.

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This is one smart chip. It can reveal what a player’s average speed is, when a player’s intensity starts to drop, whether they are performing above or below their usual level, as well as heart rate sensors. All this information can be relayed to the coaches in real time and they can then make replacements based on this information. A player’s individual performance would be virtually impossible to analyse without this chip, but could the same approach be applied to employees in other industries?

HR Grapevine recently reported that employees working in the oil, gas, mining and construction industries have started using chest-mounted sensors that can monitor heart rate and stress levels. The company behind this technology are also developing systems that can monitor when people are close to heat stress. With an understanding of this type of measurement and establishing benchmarks over time, employers can put their workers wellbeing first and as a result get more productivity out of them. It could even help to set optimum working times and ways of working, redefining flexible working arrangements, in the same way a coache redefines strength and conditioning training for individual athletes.

I'll be there in a heartbeat

Another tool in a sport coach’s arsenal is the Heart Rate Variability (HRV) predictor. This metric forms part of many training computer applications. Heart rate monitors are now a common feature of cycling computers and sports watches, as well as in applications for endurance training. Their usage acts as a predictor of whether athletes are in a training state where they can be pushed to the max, or whether they need to allow time for recovery and regeneration.

In the workplace, heart rate analysis could be a way for employers to adapt their ways of working to their employees’ needs. Are they overly stressed? Do they need to take some time off to recover from a stressful project? In an ideal world, senior management and HR professionals would start considering these types of metrics as part of a concerted effort to encourage health and wellbeing in the workplace. Wearable technology, including smartwatches and smartphone apps, are enabling these developments to be within closer reach to employers than ever before.

Data telling a story

American journal, The Atlantic, recently teamed up with IBM to produce an interactive four-part series on how technology is revolutionising sport. One of the pinnacle advancements mentioned was the use of data visualisation. By making something visually intuitive and engaging you remove the need for any form of explanation, giving coaches access to information that requires no technical knowledge. Something which businesses could take heed of.

Example of data visualisation in American Football.

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It’s not just technical information that businesses don’t always present well, but any information where there is a need for it to be presented to a not-so-specialised audience. Making metrics more accessible, clear and visually appealing is much more inclusive and prevents the headache and time consuming process of further explanation. Everyone can easily digest and understand your message, meaning we’re all on the same page quicker.

Using data to improve user experience

The intersection between sport and technology might change the landscape about what we do in the future. - Ferran Soriano, chief executive of both Man City and CFG

All sports must keep on the cutting edge of next generation technology to continually improve fair play, fan enjoyment and reduce the level of human error. Hawkeye technology, for instance, has been used in tennis for the past 8 years in Grand Slam tournaments, analysing over 41 million match points, it keeps the crowd entertained and the points fair. Continually improving user experience is definitely something that businesses can take tips from. So who’s currently making the biggest strides to touchdown?


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Perhaps unsurprisingly, the biggest developments are coming from across the pond. Technology Review recently reported that computational analysis is being used to redesign how sporting events, such as American Football, play out. Essentially they’re saying to fans, ‘tell us how you want the game to be shown and we’ll design it for you’. They have tested this out on Aussie Rules matches in Australia where they used recorded past games to plot various runs of play based on feedback from fans. The resulting different scenarios, game flows and outcomes have given them valuable insight into what changes could be implemented to accommodate game styles that are more engaging for fans. Sounds like science fiction but this type of analysis could be a feature of the 2019 rugby World Cup.

Whoever your customers are, their experiences come first. Sport is probably one of the easiest things to sell, yet even that industry is moving towards better engagement and more entertainment for its customers. Advances in data analytics are proving to be an enabler for organisations to garner a greater understanding of what their clients, or fans in the case of sport, actually want from them. Forget the competition, what is it that your customers need?


Serious sport is war minus the shooting. - George Orwell

You may think the sports technology is quite a niche market, but it’s going mainstream. Whatever sport we’re into, technology is constantly changing the game to make it a more interactive, competitive and data-led process. There isn’t a competitive team in the world who isn’t using analytics and it is enabling sport to be more of an all-consuming experience. Data is becoming intrinsically linked to human behaviour and performance optimisation – something that businesses can certainly learn from.

The sporting world has demonstrated that the technology is available and as these technologies develop, they become more widespread and affordable. This then filters down to our own sporting and working habits. Taking advantage of these opportunities as they come means we can all work smarter, happier and healthier.

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