Computer technology has made advances in sports by leaps and bounds over the past couple of decades. It’s as if computers were created for the benefit of sports and athletics. Computers have changed sporting forever, from the way athletes are coached to the way we watch. As computing power grows and size shrinks, computers are able to provide great insights into the fundamentals of a sport for both spectators and coaching staff.
Computers have been a huge boost for the coaching staff. There are two primary areas of coaching that are a natural fit for computers. The first is the most obvious and most widely used – statistics. With software and immense databases of statistical information, coaches are able to pull relevant statistics by giving specific criteria about a player or team, and receive useful information that he can use to enhance performance as it pertains to the statistical scenario being studied. For instance, maybe a batting coach using statistics found that one of his players really excels when batting against a left-handed pitcher, playing at home early in the season. The coach can take advantage of that information to make the lineup. He may also use the information to try to improve that batter’s performance in different scenarios.
Another area of computing that has greatly improved coaches’ ability to improve performance and prevent injury is being able to analyze an athlete’s motion either through computer-connected sensors placed on the athlete or through computer analysis of video of an athlete during practice or a game. The computer analysis of the athlete’s performance gives the coach insights into where improvements can be made to increase effectiveness. For instance, video analysis shows that a running back gets tackled more often when he spins right as opposed to spinning left. Careful analysis of the body mechanics during each move can help to identify why one move is more effective than the other. With this information, a coach can help the player to incorporate the same body mechanics into his less effective evasion techniques.
Player safety has also been a focus of coaching staff. An injured player is a useless player, so coaches increasingly look at how injuries occur, and train athletes to avoid on-field activities that more often lead to injury. Equipment designers can also use this information to create pads, helmets and other protective equipment that help to decrease the chances of injury to a player during a game or even practice.
Spectators love the abilities that computers have brought to the games. Primarily, computing has opened up a huge audience by making sporting events more available. Now, anyone with an iPhone, tablet or computer screen can watch games of any sport from around the world. No longer is the sports fan tied to his living room television in order to watch the game.
Computer capabilities have given rise to the slo-mo replay, the forward/reverse replay, on-screen analysis, robot referees, call challenges, just to name a few. Football fans feel like they are in the assistant coach’s chair as the previous play is analyzed by a coach-turned-commentator, complete with replay, on-screen drawing, and player isolation. The result give the spectator nearly total immersion into the game. In this manner, computers have had an immense impact on spectator enjoyment, and given a boost to online sports analysis websites (another way computers are integrated into sporting).
Stats are behind the greatest increase in spectator engagement. Statistical analysis has generated an entire new industry – fantasy leagues. These leagues allow sports aficionados to create their fantasy team for the sport that they are interested in. Participants study stats in depth to learn about the best possible players for each position. Fantasy leagues have increased viewership overall. Prior to fantasy leagues, spectators had one or two favorite teams, and would keep up with those teams’ stats. With the advent of the fantasy leagues, a spectator’s team comes from all over the league, so viewership has increased immensely as spectators watch each player on their fantasy team.
Computers are a natural complement to sports, both in the enjoyment and the performance aspects of the games. We’re excited to see where computers in sports will take us in the future.