In the landscape of fitness trackers and user-generated fitness data, it may be unsurprising to learn that a school is utilizing GPS-tracking “smart vests” during football practice. What might be surprising, however, is the perceived benefits those devices provide.

Take the case of the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, which according to the Times Free Press is using 20 smart vests with its football team. Members of the team are wearing the devices during practice, and generating data on everything from speed, distance and acceleration to individualized heart rates.

Strength and conditioning coach Chad Pearson told the Times Free Press that the introduction of the technology has added a new layer of competition to the team’s practices, while also helping staff to keep players safe and measure their progress over time. Pearson lauded the benefits of using the devices to school vice chancellor and AD Mark Wharton, as well as members of the football and women’s soccer coaching staffs.

“What it does is create a competitive atmosphere,” Pearson told the Free Press. “When you look at the number of accelerations, the most high-speed yards as an effort thing, you can look at a guy and say, ‘Hey, you took today off,’ or ‘Hey, you had it. You were really bringing it.’ It’s not that you’re trying to catch guys not working, but rather you’re creating an environment of getting after it every single day.”

The team has 20 trackers that it uses. Members of the team reportedly try to make the most out of each practice session when they’re tracked. In addition to the hard data, players are reportedly self-reporting their perceived level of exertion after each practice, by ranking how hard it was on a 1-10 scale.

“We then compare that with the actual physical work they did and compare that with their wellness, soreness, sleep, mood, appetite,” Pearson told the Free Press. “If a guy has a high-output practice but ranks practice easy, we know that’s a good thing. If after a couple of days, practices aren’t as hard as they should be and he’s ranking them very high, we need to look at their nutrition, regeneration and reps for that guy that make sure they’re healthy.”

Pearson says UTC may be the only FCS-level program in the country using this kind of device.

 

Jason Scott is Online Managing Editor of Athletic Business.