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The Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin)


An athletic injury researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is teaching an undergraduate summer course that he says is the first of its kind in the country: an overview of athlete monitoring technology.

The technology is still emergent, but it's increasingly common for athletes to wear data-collecting sensors on their bodies, or to use apps to record data on their dietary and sleeping habits.

"When it comes to technology and sport in general, it's a really interesting time to be in this field," said David Bell, an assistant professor of kinesiology at the UW-Madison and the director of the Wisconsin Injury in Sport Laboratory.

Athlete monitoring tools are akin to the personal fitness trackers like Fitbits, only the data they collect are typically more precise, diverse and come with deeper insights.

On the Wisconsin Badgers football team, players often wear devices made by the tech company Catapult attached to their backs at practices. The small boxes, about 4 inches long, encase an accelerometer, a magnetometer and GPS. That combination of sensors return information that go well beyond typical metrics. Coaches learn how much time an athlete spent sprinting at a certain speed, or how many on-field collisions they were involved in.

"It definitely is a big data scenario... You're collecting literally thousands of data points at any point of time, during any given practice," explained Bell.

Bell is the instructor of "Sports Science & Athlete Monitoring," a new three-week course to give undergraduates a working understanding of how to use monitoring tools from an athletics training perspective for team sports. As of this reporting, the course had entered its second week.

"As far as I know, this is the only undergraduate course that's starting to utilize this technology in the U.S.," he said.

The idea, he said, is that students will leave the course with "a basic understanding of what the most popular, and innovative technologies are being used for sports today." To that end, he's teaching the nine participants about data analysis and visualization skills.

Following that, they'll hit an actual training facility to do some real-life exercises and drills with the technology, giving themselves unique datasets to work with.

The class will go over different examples of athletic monitoring tools, including wellness software that can assess an athlete based on inputs like mood, sleep and diet. Primarily, however, Bell said the focus will be on tools like the GPS-enabled Catapult chips.

Rehabilitation, he said, will be the primary focus of his class, given that athlete monitoring technology isn't just changing the way coaches run practices ? it's also changing how athletes with injuries return to the field. Bell said that the technology promises to give researchers new insights into how best to get players back into the mix in practice.

"We know a lot more about the injury prevention side of things," he said. "There's less out there on returning to play."

Bell said that the course will become a permanent part of the Kinesiology Department's offerings during the school year.

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June 14, 2018


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