For many years, franchise success at the highest levels of sports sprang from the seeds of the talent evaluation department. The science of identifying, tracking, acquiring and cohesively assembling a sport’s top performers was the organizational competency that most consistently allowed teams to compete. The best players, far more often than not, offer a franchise the best chance to play for championships.
Today, with many teams and clubs across different leagues following similar blueprints for evaluating and collecting talent, executives are searching for a new edge – the next Moneyball or Death Lineup revolution. But what if that advantage weren’t particularly noticeable on the field in a given game? And what if it didn’t spring from the executive offices, but instead from the trainer’s room?
Organizations in every sport are increasingly exploring the field of biomechanics and the uses of technology such as light detection and ranging, or LiDAR, to care for and protect the talent it so carefully scouts and selects. With access to laser-based tech that tracks athletic data that includes movement patterns, displacement, velocity and acceleration, sports franchises can better notice trends or changes that indicate a heightened risk of fatigue or injury.
Retrieving and applying this data was once an inexact science. It was often recorded using inaccurate technology, inconsistent readings and mostly internal-load data (heart rate, for instance). But with LiDAR and more advanced and accurate devices, sports franchises have the ability to reliably track athlete movement data – including a variety of external loads (distance traveled, footfall intervals or exit velocity on a kicked ball) that had once been difficult, if not impossible, to measure.
According to a recent study, “Comparisons can be made with previous sessions and trends viewed over a training cycle. In doing so, improvements may be monitored alongside any drops suggesting the player is struggling or is injured. A traffic light warning system may also be used to quickly highlight changes in an individual’s performance and focus on specific players within the team.”
The study researchers note that a combination of low fitness and high fatigue – states that aren’t always readily apparent to the naked eye – present risk for athletes. Changes or inconsistencies in a runner’s gait or a baseball pitcher’s throwing mechanics, for example, are potential markers for injury risk. World-class athletes often don’t noticeably present these tiny inconsistencies, and may not be affected by them, until it is too late.
The same researchers acknowledge the limitations of GPS (inaccuracy) and inertial devices (must be wearable) in detecting these measurables. But with LiDAR, which requires no satellite signals or wearable tech, a club can count on a device that features both more flexibility and more accuracy.
Modern franchise success may still begin with talent evaluation, but a differentiator in the future will be protecting that talent – limiting diminished performance due to fatigue, reducing games missed and preventing catastrophic injuries that can alter the course of a career and even a franchise.
“An awareness of how this technology is currently being used is key to the medical team and coaches so they can partake in discussions around the data produced,” the study researchers write. “Increasingly, decisions may be based on this data and understanding the strengths, limitations and potential further uses is vital to ensure this is adopted in an appropriate way.”