Faster, fitter, better: the impact of technology on the world of sport.

Wearable devices, machine to machine (M2M) communications and the Internet of Things (IoT) already affect many areas of daily life - and are set to wield increasing influence. But did you know that they are also helping transform competitive sport?

In daily life, wearable solutions and the IoT bring us benefits in terms of time, convenience, efficiency and to have a positive impact on the environment. Smart systems in the home, the workplace and in the connected car are helping us manage our lives better, be more productive and even be safer. In the world of sport, however, wearable devices, monitoring systems and sophisticated data analysis tools can provide the “marginal gains” to deliver victory.

The sports-business crossover

In the business world, organizations are always looking to technology to streamline operations, improve efficiencies and increase productivity – and there is a growing parallel in sport. Wearable devices and sophisticated data analysis tools are helping athletes and sportsmen and women shave seconds off times, reduce recovery periods, prevent injuries and more.

It is not too long ago that the primary device for measuring sporting achievement and performance was a stopwatch. Compare that to today, where the National Football League (NFL) in the US has recently implemented systems that analyse data at a truly granular level. Every player in the NFL will be fitted with RFID sensors and every stadium will contain 20 receivers to track and record each player’s movement, speed, distance covered and field position – all underpinned by GPS location and data analysis software.

The NFL has always been a very statistics-powered sport, but new technologies are set to take it to a whole new level. A trial conducted in 2013 kitted out 2,000 players with RFID tags throughout 18 stadiums. Over the course of the season over 1.7 billion sets of player coordinates were measured, tracked and collected for analysis. This allowed coaches to pinpoint player positions and distances covered and subsequently identify missed openings, unexplored routes and unforeseen mismatches. For the coming season, the RFID chips are being used in training camps to monitor player exertion with the aim of minimizing soft-tissue injuries.

Wheels within wheels

Cycling is another sport that has benefited greatly from M2M and wearable technology. Again the mechanism in use is real-time gathering of cyclist data, this time via GPS sensors implanted in bike seats and meters. This real-time data tracking covers a rider’s individual speed, how close they are to other competitors and their exact position in the race and on the road – plus the cyclists themselves wear monitors that feed key biological data back to their team management, such as heartrate and power output.

Strava is a platform that leverages wearable devices, GPS and communications and extends it to amateur sportspeople. It connects athletes from all over the world and lets them compete with each other, tracking cycle rides and runs via GPS over mobile devices, and helps riders and runners analyze and quantify performances. It also brings a social community element to the mix, encouraging athletes to try for continuous improvement. Users can also follow professional cyclists through the site and track and review the life and training regime of a pro – something many amateur riders say serves as a great motivator.

Rugby emerging from the pack

The recent Rugby World Cup also saw connected tools to improve performance and reduce injury risks. All players were fitted with in-clothing sensors that monitored physical attributes like heartrate, breathing patterns and body temperature during a match, with all this data relayed back via M2M technology for analysis. The result was to impact fitness and recovery times and pre-empt injury and even illness.

There is also a new system which uses sensors, pressure readings, gyroscopes and magnets to measure the angle, speed and force with which players are tackled. This technique is intended to help cut down on injuries wherever possible and particularly enable doctors to diagnose potential brain injury more quickly than ever.

Soccer getting in on the act too

The round ball game is getting set to embrace the wearable trend too now, with similar systems in place to evaluate and improve fitness, performance, recovery and even decision-making – though for the moment, only in training. On-pitch technology in professional soccer matches remains, for the moment at least, limited to the goal-line technology which uses sensors to determine whether or not the ball has crossed the line. These sensors are linked up to a smartwatch worn by the match referee, informing them in real-time whether to award a goal.

Soccer is no stranger to deep analysis. Prozone is a technology that has become widespread in the game. It is a player-tracking software that utilizes multiple cameras around a pitch and then outputs a two-dimensional map and animation of a match, giving unparalleled granularity into player movements and efficiency. Nineteen out of 20 English Premier League clubs today use Prozone and each has a team of performance analysts mining the data gathered to improve player and team performance – it is about using technology to gain a competitive advantage.

Amateur soccer is leveraging technology’s benefits too. StatsOne is a free app for amateur clubs and players to use and is designed to give them similar data analysis power to the pro versions. Players are filmed while playing and around a thousand data points are gathered for subsequent analysis. Again, the intended result is to improve performance, reduce mistakes and increase successful percentages of passing, shooting and so on.

It seems that the sky is the limit. As long as players and teams want to go on improving performance levels, technology will play an increasing role. Most sports look set to benefit from wearable tech and M2M-enabled devices backed up by data analysis tools and software – fine-tuning players and athletes to make them faster, fitter, better and more consistent.

Orange is the global sponsor and official telecommunications service provider for UEFA EURO 2016™. Find out more about IoT and big data from Orange Applications for Business and M2M from Orange Business.