In the News: When applied properly, technology can be useful in an athlete’s development, but gadgets also can become a hindrance

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By ALISON KORN, Toronto Sun

It either can help athletes win gold, or drown them in unproductive details.
The booming business of sport technology has its share of charlatans out to make a quick buck off Olympic coaches with fat budgets for cool gadgets and the challenge now facing high performance athletes and coaches is to determine which technologies are worth their while.

The ever-growing list includes heart-rate monitors, video analysis, GPS navigation systems, power and acceleration meters, altitude training, cooling vests, cold water plunges and compression garments.

“We can get more and more information than ever before,” said Dr. David Martin, a senior sport physiologist at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra, Australia. “For some people, they’re crippled by the information, they hide behind it, like a shield. For others, it’s really valuable and lets them move ahead rapidly.”

Younger coaches raised on video games are more likely to embrace and master high-tech coaching aids, while older coaches will tend to stick with what they know, said Martin, who was in Richmond, B.C., last month presenting at a sport technology conference.

It was organized by the Canadian Sport Centre Pacific, which services athletes training in the region.

“Canada’s got a really great buzz about it right now,” said Dr. Martin, who is from Oregon. “I’ve been in and out of Canada for 20 years and the one thing I noticed from this conference is there seems to be more confidence.”

Indeed, the influx of cash for Canadian Olympic winter sports, spurred by the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, also is flowing over to the top summer federations, meaning sports science budgets have gone up in recent years for all teams with medal potential.

“We’ve added to our program about $100,000 (for sport science), to our total budget of $4 million,” said Swimming Canada’s CEO, Pierre Lafontaine.

“The things we’ve done with it have been spectacular. For example, the bio-mechanical analysis is really important.”

In the past year, bio-mechanical analysis enabled world freestyle sprint champion Brent Hayden to improve his entry dive using a cool video analysis program, Dartfish, that can paste the outlines of one movement over another, allowing users to clearly see which technique is faster, more explosive or more efficient.

The challenge with Dartfish and other devices is training coaches how to use them, and managing training sessions “so while you’re doing Dartfish on one kid you’re still coaching the other six,” Lafontaine said.

But no amount of technology replaces the hours of pure hard work.

“My feeling is we have to do the basics perfectly better than anybody in the world and then you bring the technology on top of that,” Lafontaine said.

At the conference, Martin’s message to Canadian coaches and sport scientists was a warning: “To delineate clearly your purpose when you use technology.”

He pointed to cooling vests and cold water plunges as strategies that sound impressive, but aren’t proven to be useful.

“There’s a lot of junk out there being sold as high-tech solutions,” Martin noted, “and it’s noting more than high tech confusions.”

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