IoT and Big Data, essential technologies for Rugby Union

Olivia Brookhouse    27 May, 2020

Next in our series of #IoTinSport we are focusing on the innovation of IoT and Big Data in the sport of Rugby. Using IoT devices within sport allows coaches and players to make decisions based on real time game insights, design training sessions tailored to individual needs and implement intelligent strategies against each opponent. Performing well on the pitch is down to the individual skills of sportsmen and sportswomen but winning is much more than that and is where technology can play an increasingly helpful role.

Evolution

Rugby Union was not declared as a professional sport until August 1995 and since, the sport has evolved incredibly into what it is today. The sport has a multi-million worldwide following with money making broadcasting agreements and sponsorship contracts. Now more than ever, a won does not mean just a win, it means money. Therefore, clubs are looking to gain a competitive edge over their opponents, triggering the emergence of new technological functions such as IoT connectivity and Big Data analytics.

Connect the Game to measure force

For many years’ players have been equipped with health monitoring IoT devices and satellite positioning devices to track the location of players on the playing field. This allows coaches to analyse in real time the physiological performance of individual players, including their heart rate, muscle activity and breathing pattern. This can provide vital information during matches to decide who needs to be substituted next. But in contact sports, analyzing how players physically collide with opponents with force sensors is just as important, an area which until recently had been left untouched.

Sansible Wearables, founded by rugby fanatics Jack Ng and Charlie Patterson creates wearable technology for rugby players called LiveSkin, intelligent sensors which are fitted to the players’ shoulder pads to collect metrics from collisions in both training session and game environments. This helps improve the understanding of how players tackle and its effect on their performance and health. Being able to quantify moments of contact can help improve techniques and prevent shoulder injuries. The data can then be passed wirelessly thanks to specially designed software to monitor the data remotely.

Although wearables are already used in sports, our product is doing something very different: measuring force

Jack Ng

Big Data Analytics

Across all sports, technological advancements and improved data management has improved team and individual performance management, including in Rugby union. Coaches now have an entire backstage team, equipped with advanced computer analytics programs and monitoring equipment to gain insights on every aspect of the match. Performance analysts use time lapse software to track event frequencies which, by the end of a match or training session, will create a large data set which can be processed to draw out actionable conclusions.

Thanks to Artificial Intelligence and Algorithms, how the data can then be presented after it is collected is also developing from basic visualizations to more complex predictive models. This can provide more intelligent insight into how players should behave in certain circumstances. This is changing the game of rugby union, as more coaches turn to data to inform their decisions during a match. Clubs that rely on a more evidence-based approach to performance can tailor training and games according to their next opposition. Whilst this clearly helps secure a win, it also helps prevent injuries.

Players or Data

Whilst many of the younger players are incorporating the evidence obtained from the data in their game plan, others, more experienced players are still very much reliant on that gut feeling. Whilst the data is important, in the heat of a match, players will most likely be relying on their instinct to make decisions. The data is therefore more useful to the coaches to inform them when designing new strategies into training sessions which players can learn to implement into their game. It is also important for the players not to lose their spirit and passion for the game by getting too bogged down in the data.

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