I am the second of four daughters in my family. Some might think that this x-chromosome overload would mean that videogames, action figures, toy trucks, and sports were moot topics in my house. Those people would be mostly correct. To this day, I am mercilessly made fun of for my pitiful videogaming abilities. I always thought action figures were lame (still do), and I preferred my Princess Jasmine Barbie to toy trucks (still do). But when it comes to sports, my sisters and I are athletes not to be underestimated. I used to hope that my parents would have another kid so we could have a 100% Marcus basketball team. I was serious about my sports, and loved that I could find a companion to kick around a soccer ball, play some HORSE, or rollerblade around the block just by hollering “I’m going outside to play [insert sport here], play with me!!!” through the hallways of my house.
My parents, both big believers of team sports, signed up all four of their daughters for swim team at the local community center. From ages 5-12, I swam 3 times a week and participated in swim meets every few weekends. On Sundays I would play in my school’s intramural soccer league (go Green Mean Fighting Machine), and continued playing through middle school and high school. Eventually I discovered the thrills of basketball, which has stuck with me to this day.
Playing sports requires a fair share of equipment. Swim caps, bathing suits, goggles, cleats, shin guards, soccer socks, and jerseys were perpetually scattered around my house. Every year as the sports seasons rolled around, we would gather everything from past seasons and the hand-me-down gear exchange would commence. Cleats I grew out of would go to my younger sisters, extra swim caps would go into the “save pile” for when the next Marcus girl was old enough to join the swim team, and so on. The inevitable fight would break out over who got the cool tie-dyed soccer socks or the awesome purple swim goggles (side note: is there such thing as awesome goggles?), but in the end the seasonal athletic gear swap was always a success.
Athletic gear is always being “updated,” “revolutionized” or “optimized for peak performance,” and we believe that what is new is better, and what is better enhances our abilities. I think we’re often just suckers for a good marketing ploy, but last week when I came across an article about intelligent soccer cleats, I double checked myself. Just days later, I discovered an article about smart goggles. I realized that the world of athletics was, like so much else, going digital. How could this be? Cleats are for running on grass turf. Goggles are for seeing underwater. What more is there to it?
This new class of intelligent athletic products is all about tracking and monitoring progress in real time. The smart goggles are outfitted with a tiny LCD panel that beams time and speed stats in the swimmer’s peripheral view, giving the swimmer the necessary information to pace him or herself for the duration of the swim. Similarly, the adizero f50 miCoach cleats by Adidas are equipped with a miCoach Speed Cell tracking device that monitors similar statistics – average speed, maximum speed, number of sprints, distance, and stride rates – for up to 7 hours of playing time, which can later be uploaded to any device. Access to such detailed information can be a serious game changer for athletes, for whom precision and goal achievement are the ultimate measures of success.
As digital technology morphs everyday items into intelligent objects, I find myself wondering what the end state of this “digital phase” will be. What other things do we wish we could track and monitor that, up until now, we just haven’t had the technology to do? I know smart refrigerators are not far off, as well as smart mirrors that have already been conceived of and developed. If our obsession is with monitoring progress and seeing results, why not just implant a chip into our bodies to track every aspect of our lives and call it a day?
In all seriousness, this is applied technology at its best. The wealth of information available to athletes and coaches is hugely advantageous. But still, how strange to think that the next generation of kids could consider smart cleats to be a crucial part of their soccer training. Or that swimmers could ultimately become their own swim coaches. There’s no doubt, intelligent digital design is changing the game.