Bendigo Bank Spirit Goes High Tech To Boost Performance

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A tiny watch-like device is being used to measure the activity and sleep patterns of Bendigo’s back-to-back winning women’s basketball team, Bendigo Spirit. Called accelerometers, the small devices are being used to track the movement of players on and off court. Bendigo Spirit players wear them during training, daily activity and sleep.

“Every single waking moment it’s on….we take the watches off to shower and when I do the dishes so I don’t get it wet,” said recent recruit from Adelaide, Ashleigh Spencer, who plays forward position. Last year the players wore heart rate monitors and accelerometers during matches, but for past two weeks their off court activity also has been monitored.

Strength and conditioning coach Craig Staunton said the move was about improving the performance of the athletes. “Improving their strength, their power as well as improving their aerobic capacity,” he said.

Undertaking a PhD in sports science with a particular focus on tracking technology, Mr Staunton was asked to take on a role with the team. He said the accelerometer could measure movement in three directions: forwards and backwards, side to side, and up and down, as well as the intensity of the movement at a rate of 100 hertz.

“That means it’s picking up 100 data points every second,” Mr Staunton said. He said the high sampling frequency was necessary for level of intensity of movement in professional athletes. The data is fed back through a customised computer program, which is analysed to create a suitable training program. Mr Staunton said he had found a large variation between the players in their daily activity.

“Certain individual players have significantly more active time outside of training compared to others,” he said. “If they are doing too much, too little, and obviously when we relate that to their performance, we are able to develop an ideal range of what we want to do with their training throughout the week.”

Since wearing her accelerometer to bed, Ms Spencer has found out her sleep patterns are not as good as she might have thought. The metrics measured for sleep include total sleep time and “sleep efficiency”, which is the actual time spent sleeping.

“So if you’re in bed for eight hours, but you only sleep seven hours of the eight hours, then obviously your sleep efficiency is not 100 percent,” Mr Staunton said. The accelerometers are able to detect movement in sleep and the duration of the movement, which is classified as an awakening.

Some of the data has shown of Ms Spencer’s 520 minutes in bed one night, she only spent 463 minutes sleeping, with a total of 24 registered awakening periods, averaging about two minutes and 38 seconds. “I really like the feedback that we get from it — I think it’s helping us a lot,” she said.

Mr Staunton does not believe the high level of scrutiny puts more pressure on the players. “There’s a line between monitoring your athletes and when they, I guess, start to become guinea pigs. Certainly it’s a fine line you tread,” he said. “But in an elite sporting competition such as the WNBL, I think any edge you can get is going to be beneficial to be able to help the team improve their performance.”

Article and Photo: Larissa Romensky, ABC Central Victoria

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