Motion capture is best known in the film and video game industries. Its use in blockbuster movies like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and AAA games like The Last of Us bring characters to life in a way that ‘traditional’ techniques can’t.
This transformative technology is now increasingly used outside entertainment. In professional sports, where the finest margins make a massive difference, motion capture delivers the advantages that could ensure victory.
How Motion Capture is Used in Sports
Professional athletes operate at the highest level of human fitness and endurance. The smallest advantages are key when your closest competitors are fit, fast and technically gifted.
It’s here that motion capture apps makes a difference. MoCap technology provides a wealth of information unavailable from ‘traditional’ sources (like the eye test and video analysis).
For instance, in track and field, it assists in fine-tuning sprinters’ stride patterns and starts. Gymnastics benefits by analysing complex body movements, aiding in perfecting routines while minimising the risk of injuries.
Below are some examples of how MoCap helps in some popular sports:
Technique Analysis: Analysing kicking techniques, stride patterns, and body positioning to enhance shooting accuracy and passing efficiency.
Injury Prevention: Identifying biomechanical imbalances that could lead to injuries like ACL tears or ankle sprains.
Rehabilitation: Monitoring players’ recovery from injuries, ensuring correct movement patterns are restored.
Tackle Mechanics: Improving tackling techniques to reduce the risk of concussions and other impact-related injuries.
Quarterback Training: Analysing the throwing mechanics of quarterbacks for improved accuracy and reduced arm strain.
Training Efficiency: Tailoring training programs to optimise player movements and reduce overuse injuries.
Skating Technique: Enhancing skating efficiency by analysing stride length, balance, and ice contact.
Stick Handling: Improving puck control and shot accuracy through detailed analysis of wrist and arm movements.
Injury Analysis: Identifying movement patterns that may contribute to common injuries like groin strains and shoulder dislocations.
Shooting Technique: Fine-tuning shooting mechanics for improved accuracy and consistency.
Jump Analysis: Studying jumping and landing techniques to reduce the risk of knee and ankle injuries.
Agility Training: Analysing and improving player movements for better on-court agility and defensive actions.
Enhancing Training Regimes
At the heart of motion capture’s impact is its ability to provide a detailed analysis of an athlete’s movement. This analysis goes beyond what the naked eye can perceive, offering high-resolution data on aspects like joint angles, muscle activation, and weight distribution.
Such detailed information allows coaches to pinpoint even the most minute inefficiencies or imbalances in an athlete’s technique.
For example, in sprinting, motion capture can reveal asymmetries in leg movement or imbalances in starting blocks, leading to tailored training that addresses these specific issues.
How Does It Work?
The athlete will wear sensors or an IMU (Inertial Measuring Unit) to capture movement – the IMU is often favoured when the athlete is out in the field, as it doesn’t require cameras.
The captured motion data can then be overlaid onto either a baseline of an athletes prior performance or a ‘model’ of fundamental movement patterns.
These comparisons allow athletes and coaches to see deviations from optimal techniques, guiding corrections and improvements.
Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation
Injuries to football players cost Premier League teams £255.4 million for the 2022/23 season.
Motion capture technology allows for the early detection of movement patterns that could lead to injuries. Analysing an athlete’s motion in detail can identify overuse, asymmetries, or improper techniques that may not be immediately apparent.
For instance, an imbalance in a runner’s stride or a football player’s repetitive stress on a particular joint can be flagged early, allowing for intervention before these issues escalate into serious injuries.
This proactive approach to monitoring athletes’ health is instrumental in preventing a wide range of sports-related injuries, from acute muscle strains to long-term joint wear and tear.
Facilitating Rehabilitation and Return-to-Play
Motion capture technology allows precision monitoring of an athlete’s rehabilitation progress, providing objective data to guide recovery.
For example, in knee injuries, motion capture can track the range of motion and coordination improvements, ensuring that the athlete returns to full activity once they have regained proper function and symmetry in their movements.
The Technology Isn’t Perfect
While motion capture technology has advanced significantly, it still has certain limitations that need addressing.
One limitation is the technology’s reliance on visual markers or sensors attached to the athlete’s body. These markers can sometimes hinder natural movement or may not capture certain movements accurately, especially in contact sports where the IMU can be dislodged.
The equipment also requires specialised knowledge to operate and interpret the data accurately, necessitating trained professionals who can manage the technology effectively.
Moreover, the nature of outdoor sports presents another challenge. Many motion capture systems are designed for indoor use, where lighting and environmental conditions are controlled. Adapting these systems for outdoor use, where weather and lighting vary, can affect the accuracy of the data collected.
Another area for improvement is the real-time processing of data. While motion capture systems can collect a vast amount of data, processing and interpreting this data quickly and effectively is still challenging. Faster processing would allow for real-time feedback to athletes and coaches, making the technology even more valuable in training and rehabilitation scenarios.
Is Motion Capture Worthwhile?
In short, yes.
No technology is perfect, but motion capture is a rapidly advancing field. Take the NBA. Basketball is a very fast-paced game where players need rapid reactions and precise movements to win.
Several teams, including the Golden State Warriors, implemented SportVU into their stadium to help monitor players.
The six-camera tracking system allowed the team’s coaches to see how the players moved, passed and interacted with a far higher level of detail than normal video analysis.
Using the data, the Warriors were able to implement better training regimes. The results weren’t immediate; they didn’t win more than half of their games in the first 2 seasons using SportVU.
However, the team continued to use the data, and the wins started to build – they won 57% of their games in 2013 and 62% in 2014. An 82% win rate followed this in 2015.
Every team in the NBA now uses SportVU.
The limitations will be eliminated as the technology improves, providing teams with even more information. Higher-quality performances mean better entertainment – that’s great for sports fans everywhere.
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