Technological Advances To Train Olympians: Good For Kids?

By Dev K. Mishra, M.D., President, Sideline Sports Doc

I’ve been reading many pre-Olympic articles with great interest, and I’ve always been fascinated with new technology or training methods used to allow athletes to reach their highest potential.  Can some of these methods be used to help young athletes be the best they can be? Absolutely.  Whether they should use these methods is another subject that I’ll touch upon briefly.  Here’s a rundown of a few articles you can look at to see some of the methods.

High Definition Super Slow Motion Video Analysis

The human body is a miraculous machine as it is, but in the rarified atmosphere of world class competition the difference between finishing out of a medal and standing on a podium is vanishingly small.  One way to improve performance is to make movements as efficient as possible.  For centuries this type of analysis has been done through the practiced eye of the experienced coach.  But now with ultra high definition image capture combined with super slow motion we are able to dissect movements down to the tiniest detail, not visible to the human eye in real time.  Take a look at a nice summary of some techniques used by U.S. sprinter Lolo Jones as well as the Australian Institute of Sport in this article from Wired Magazine: “One One-Hundredth of a Second Faster: Building Better Olympic Athletes”.

Take that objective information and combine it with the experience of the coach and then the athlete is able to optimize performance.  For the young athlete this type of analysis is extremely common in many sports, and the diminishing price of technology is making this more accessible.  Video analysis for golfers and throwers is readily available in any major U.S. metropolitan community.

Tracking Work Rate, Effort, and Movements in Team Sports

I am a huge believer in objective information used to guide performance.  On a personal level I can’t do without my FitBit tracker (note to all adult readers: get one of those if you really want to improve your own fitness).  Devices used to monitor heart rate, VO2, calorie expenditure, and GPS tracking of movement on a sports field are easy to use, becoming less costly, and readily available.  Here’s a blog post from Heather O’Reilly writing in the New York Times of the U.S. women’s Olympic soccer team about her use of the Adidas MiCoach.  Young athletes who want this can obtain it now in a wide range of Adidas shoes and cleats.  Expensive?  Probably, but it’s here now.

I could go on and on about the technology used by some athletes, some of it truly futuristic in concept but here for use in 2012.  With any new technology always comes additional questions, and for young athletes the biggest one is probably this: should a young athlete make use of the new technologies?  My short answer: yes, if you can get it.  To be clear, I’m talking about taking a human body as it is and making it the best it can be by optimizing processes safely and ethically.  I draw the line at manipulating a body for the sole purpose of winning a competition, such as use of performance enhancing drugs or genetic manipulation of athletic traits.

Everything has a cost, and everything in life should be balanced.  It will take a while for society to ask and answer the big questions about enhancing performance the “right way”.  But consider someone like Usain Bolt, widely regarded as a raw talent when he shattered world and Olympic records in Beijing.  Bolt has likely been spending quite a bit of time utilizing the best that technology has to offer (legally) to make him the best he can be.  Who wouldn’t want to see that?

For young athletes I don’t see too much distinction between using a high level coach with technical tools and a musical prodigy with a master instructor dissecting recordings, a promising physicist having access to the most powerful computers, or even getting tutoring for the SAT.  I’m sure there are many who would disagree with me but if we can make ourselves better in a healthy, legal way I say go for it.

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