Talking sport technology with Grant van Velden

Adrienne van der Merwe

With the annual Varsity Cup officially over and the Maties men’s hockey team in their build-up for the Varsity Sports competition, many students attend these sporting events, unaware of the technicalities that lie behind the training of a Maties athlete.

Maties athletes have to balance their sporting and academic lives. It is, thus, important for the Maties Sport High Performance Centre to maximise productivity during their limited contact sessions.

Grant van Velden, Sport Technology and Training Innovations manager at the Maties High Performance Centre remarked, “We are trying to enhance our athletes’ performances through the use of
different pieces of technology. All of this technology falls under the blanket term ‘performance enhancement’. Every instrument has a different role and improves the performance of athletes in a different way.”

Their most frequently used device is the VX Sport GPS, which is predominantly used to monitor the performance of athletes, in order to guarantee their best possible physical condition during matches.

Van Velden added, “The VX Sport GPS is used to see how our athletes perform physically on the field, in order to give our sport scientists and our strength and conditioning coaches
better information on how our athletes play their sport, whether it is hockey, rugby sevens or rugby fifteens. The physical demands of the game are different and we need to train our athletes for the game according to how they play. If we don’t train them according to how they play or what the demands of the match entail, then we aren’t doing our jobs properly.”

The VX Sport GPS allows coaches to obtain match information such as the distance an athlete has run, the athlete’s top speed, the number of sprints or laps the athlete has done and how many accelerations and decelerations the athlete has made. Subsequently, this information allows coaches to monitor training sessions.

Van Velden further remarked, “We have been using the VX Sport GPS actively since 2011 and it has made a big difference. Athletes are no longer able to hide on the field with the GPS unit. Satellites track their movements, which are then recorded as data and put into excel reports. This has also helped us reduce our injury numbers. To summarize, we can’t make sense of things if we can’t measure them. Our big role is to make sense of what our athletes do so that we can get them to perform at their best.”

Maties Sport also makes use of other technology to enhance the performance of their teams. This includes the fusion sport smart speed system, a set of lights used for testing speed, the athlete’s agility and decision-making ability. Additionally, they make use of the Polar Team2 heart rate system for recovery testing. iPads are also used for performance analysis; for example, they film
athletes in the gym to see whether they are able to lift weights correctly to prevent injuries.

The vast amount of data that has been collected as a result of athlete monitoring devices might be used for the publication of an academic paper in the near future. A research topic, such as “The
movement characteristics of a Maties Sport rugby player” might be explored, promising an interesting journal article.

Due to limited funds, the Maties High Performance Centre is not able to use as much sport technology as they would like to. However, van Velden concluded, “I’d like to think that we run quite a
good programme with what we have.”

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