Filter data to make it relevant, says Team GB coach
There is a danger of overanalysing data in order to improve sports performance.
That is the view of the GB Bobsleigh team performance director Gary Anderson.
He uses a mixture of sensors and devices on the sled, the athletes and along the track – but the challenge is not getting bogged down in numbers.
“You can be swamped with data and it’s the experts’ and the coaches’ job to filter that to make sure it’s meaningful for the athletes so they can make a change,” says Anderson, adding that the challenge is to make sure each test run is consistent to ensure the results are accurate.
“For us the people are more important that the tech; we can have the best data in the world but if we don’t know what to do with it, it’s useless.
“My brief to my staff is that unless we can show how we can use these numbers to make the sled go faster we won’t use them, because at the end of the day we’re a timed sport and the ultimate measure is what the stopwatch is saying when we cross the finish line.”
Measurements are taken during every run the team makes when it trains in North America and Europe from October to March.
Though the UK does not have its own test track, the University of Bath has a state-of-the art facility to train for starts, which Anderson says is a crucial part of the race that the GB team aims to be best in the world at.
Data loggers on the bobsleigh, worn by the athletes and at various points of the run measure movement, speed and velocity, and the power exerted by the riders and the sled, which is then delivered to a software package to be analysed.
“As soon as anything moves we measure it,” Anderson says.
For official training the technology is owned by the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation, meaning the GB team can only use the same machines as its competitors.
Anderson and his team have come up with some bespoke tech for training outside of this, which is kept under wraps.
“We’re all on a level playing field when it comes to official training, but the race is to dominate that data and know exactly what it means to us,” says Anderson, adding that the coaching staff has grown as the tech has progressed.
“We get real-time feedback as we’re sitting by the track and we employ experts, not just from sport, who can interpret that data when it comes back as a mass of numbers.”
The results are converted into a language the coaches will understand, who then relay that as training advice for their athletes.
It means maps to show the speed and velocity over 20 separate runs can be overlayed to give a picture of what is happening on the track.
Taking measurements during the 45m run before athletes get into the bobsleigh can also determine the optimal load point for each one of the four riders, which will change depending on the conditions and who is in the team.