Though Americans have always held sports as a favorite pastime, the industry today looks very different to how it did even a decade ago. This is in large part due to advances in technology. Not only has tech changed the way athletes train and play, but it has had a radical impact on how they are regarded in society. This evolution of sport is at no time more evident than in these first few months of the year.
First up, we have the ever-contentious Super Bowl, where diehard sports fans gather to celebrate the biggest game in the NFL’s calendar. Then, after only just managing to sleep off their hangovers, they are thrown into the mayhem that is college basketball. March Madness, the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, is a single-elimination event that takes place over the latter half of March. Sixty-eight college basketball teams go head-to-head over a series of games, until finally a tournament championship stands victorious.
Not only is March Madness a wonderful celebration of young athletes. It’s also a great example of how technology can influence sport, both from a spectator’s perspective and that of an athlete. The growing popularity of the games is encouraging more people to get involved in the event through fantasy sports communities online, yet the influx of training apps, equipment improvements and medical achievements means the life of the modern athlete looks vastly different to that of their predecessors. So, how exactly has technology changed sport?
The Impact of Apps and Software
Studying one’s own practice is a huge part of athletic improvement. Recording, uploading and watching footage of athletic performance used to require bulky equipment, but today, with apps like Hudl, it’s so much easier for players and coaches to record and share videos on any smart device. Using this technology, teams can compile comments, drawings and feedback while also obtaining reports and insights that can monitor—and thereby help improve—an athlete’s performance. More mainstream devices that have a huge impact on an athlete’s training system include the Apple Watch and Fitbit, which allow training and health stats to easily be recorded and used to provide feedback on athletic progress.
The Effect of New Sporting Equipment
Sports equipment is always changing to accommodate the needs of athletes and to lower the risk of burnout or injury. For example, the composite tennis racquet has been redesigned over the years to reduce vibrations passed through the player’s arm, therefore lowering the risk of tennis elbow. Similarly, Adidas’s 3D printed shoe—called the Futurecraft 4D—can be “molded to suit an individual’s foot-shape or gait”, an advancement which highlights how sporting equipment is being tailored to individual athletes, giving them an edge.
The Influence of Social Media
Athletes have long been idolized and treated as role models, but with the growing prevalence of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and personal websites, some athletes—like Serena Williams—have used their status to amplify their voice and lobby for causes they care about. Thanks to the global reach of social technology, athletes are seen as influencers, much like politicians and celebrities, with their opinions now carrying much more weight in social discussions.
The Importance of Athlete Health
As awareness about the severity of sports injuries grows, athlete protection has become a priority. There are the basics, of course, like helmet improvements to counter head injuries, but athletic technology is going above and beyond to promote athlete health. Under Armour has developed sleepwear, for example, that is designed to reduce inflammation and improve circulation throughout the night. Then there are institutions like IMG Academy, which is incorporating recovery and injury prevention techniques like Alter-G anti-gravity treadmills—designed to take the pressure off an athlete’s joints when they run—and the Normatec recovery system—which uses compressed air to promote faster healing of the body.
Sporting events like March Madness are a great way to bring the whole crew together, but they should not be enjoyed at the expense of an athlete’s health. Advancements like these mean that the sports we watch will continue to get bigger and better without having a negative impact on the life and body of athletes. This translates into longer and healthier careers for those athletes, and more sports-themed parties followed by long hangovers for us.
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Photo Credits: Shutterstock / melis, Shutterstock / Roman Tiraspolsky, Shutterstock / Leonard Zhukovsky