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The Four Questions You Must Ask Before Buying Sports Science Technology

Length: »1600 Words

Reading Time: »5 Minutes

Target Audience: » Athletes,Coaches & Sports Scientists

Author: » David Nolan

Key Points:

1. Any technology you implement should ideally have high validity and reliability. If it does not, it may have some applications once you understand its limitations.

2. You should not just collect data for the sake of it. Any metrics you measure should directly inform the decision-making process or provide contextual insight to data.

3. If the new technology does not save time or make your job easier, you need to seriously question the rationale of its introduction.

4. You need to balance the cost of a technology versus the potential benefits. If the technology does not provide a clear return on investment, it is likely your funds are better spent elsewhere.


The role of the sports scientist and S&C coach has transformed in recent years. We must become hybrid practitioners and assume a multitude of responsibilities to be an attractive asset to teams and organizations. One of the roles we often find ourselves being tasked with is the evaluation and implementation of new technologies and devices for enhancing our athletic performance and rehabilitation programs.

The ability to effectively critique and review new technologies is a key attribute of the modern sports scientist and can result in significant savings for organization in both time and money.

Advancements in technology can make your job as a sports professional much more effective through instantaneous and insightful data collection, as well as saving you invaluable time through automation and cloud-based systems.

But all technologies are not created equal and you can easily make a costly mistake being attracted to the new shiny gizmo or naively swallowing the pitch of a slick salesman.

When I assess technologies for organizations, I ask myself four key questions.


Q1. Is it Reliable and Valid?

Technologies are constantly evolving, and the market is flooded with fantastical devices that claim to measure a plethora of variables, aiding you in developing your athletes in the most effective way possible. Before we assess whether the technology will benefit our work, we must first ensure it is valid and reliable.


Reliability can be defined as “the degree to which an assessment tool produces stable and consistent results.” There are several types of reliability we could discuss but in short, for a device to be reliable we want consistency in results and the margin of error in our technologies.

For example, if you were to step on a scales and it reads 80kg, you would expect it to read the exact same if you were to step off and on again. If you were to do this 100 times in a row and got the exact same reading of 80kg, then you have a very reliable device with a very low margin of error. But if you repeated the same experiment with a different scales and the 100 readings varied sporadically from 76 – 84kg, then you have a device with low reliability and a large margin of error.

The more accurate and the lower the margin of error a device has, the more sensitive it is. Sensitivity is linked to its reliability and refers how capable a technology is of detecting differences in measures. If we are working with elite level sprinters, we need our timing gates to be highly sensitive as we may be trying to detect improvements in times of milliseconds. If our timing gates have poor reliability and sensitivity and reading vary by a margin of error of ±100 milliseconds (one-tenth of a second) then the data we would get from them is essentially useless if we are trying to detect improvements of milliseconds.


Validity can be defined as “the extent to which a measurement, test or study measures what it purports to measure.” For a device to be valid, it must accurately measure what it claims to measure.

For example, if a weighing scales consistently reads 5kg more than what the actual mass being placed on the scales is, it is not a valid device for the measurement of mass. If the over-read of 5kg is consistent, we can say the device is reliable (as the degree of error is consistent), but it is not a valid measure as it does not accurately measure what it is supposed to.

There may be times when we use devices that are reliable but not valid, but to do this we must acknowledge the limitations of this and only compare the data obtained to previous data obtained from the same individual/cohort using the same device and procedures. It is not recommended to compare data from one cohort obtained through an invalid device to another group using a different device.

As a rule of thumb with sports technology, the cheaper the product compared to its competitors, is usually due to poorer the validity and reliability. If a price-tag seems too good to be true, make sure your read the technical specifications.

Any technology and company worth its salt should be able to provide you with high quality research on both the validity and reliability of their device, ideally conducted by an independent laboratory.


Q2. Are the Metrics & Data Provided Useful & Beneficial?

“The goal is to turn data into information and the information into insight”- Carly Fiorina

Once you have established the reliability and validity of the technology, the next question you to ponder is whether the data provided is of benefit to you?

It is too easy to get blinded by data collection, producing pretty graphs and tables containing hundreds of measures. Athletes are not impressed by how much data you collect. Athletes are concerned with you helping them to become better. While coaches and management might like to be flooded with data and graphics, if it does not lead to better performances, their enthusiasm will soon fade.

You must ask yourself some honest questions about the metrics you collect:

- Why am I choosing to capture this metric?

- Am I collecting data just for the sake of it?

- Is the data collected informing and aiding my decision making?

- Are the athletes and the organization as a whole benefiting from the measures I take?

The goal of data collection is to maximize the amount of insightful information obtained while minimizing the commitment/effort your athletes must give in order to collect it.

If the measures provided by a piece of technology do not directly benefit the athlete or the organization, then you must question its purpose and necessity in your program.


Q3. Does it save time and/or make your job easier?

This is a no-brainer for me. If a piece of technology will not save you invaluable time and/or make your job easier, then it likely is not worth implementing.

As professional sports scientists or coaches, we are often under-paid and forced to work long, unsociable hours. New technologies can ease the burden of your workload through the automation of certain data collection, analysis and reporting processes.

Yet, some technologies, particularly those in a state of on-going development can often be difficult to navigate and end up requiring even more time and effort than the “outdated” methods it promised to replace.

Before you splash out on the latest gadget or software, make sure it will benefit you and your organization by making your systems more effective and efficient. I have often talked teams out of purchasing expensive systems that are invalid and incomprehensible to navigate, and instead recommended contracting a computer programmer for half a day to develop seamless excel workflows or to write some code in R/Python to streamline their current data collection protocols.


Q4. Is it affordable and worth the investment?

Many great plans have fallen victim to funding issues. Most of us in sports do not have the luxury of unlimited budgets. We must work within the constraints of our finances, ensuring we edge out the most value for every single euro. If the technology in question has already passed the above three criterion, the last question to ask yourself is can you afford it? And is it worth the investment?

Is the potential benefit to you and your athlete’s worth parting with your hard-earned cash?

Are the advantages of implementing this piece of technology justifiable when compared to other possible use of funds (hiring of additional staff/interns, purchase of supplements, funding training camps etc.)?

I cannot answer this question for you, this one you must reflect on yourself in a brutally honest way. You must play devil’s advocate with yourself. What leads to the best long-term outcomes, investing in this piece of technology, or spending the available funds in other ways?



We cannot stop the march of technological advancement. Technology will continue to play a bigger role in sports science and S&C in the coming years. As professionals we must become shrewd in the assessment and implementation of technologies with our athletes. The ability to effectively evaluate new devices and systems is an invaluable trait that will not only benefit your organizations through the selection of appropriate systems, leading to greater levels of athlete development, but will also save you a lot of time, money and frustration by quickly weeding out the runts in the technological litter.


About the author:

David Nolan is the founder and head of coaching & education at Synapse Performance. He is an experienced sports scientist and S&C coach. David is the current head of performance at Rugby Academy Ireland. David is also an experienced researcher and is currently completing his PhD in applied sports science at DCU under the supervision of Dr. Brendan Egan.

David offers individualized coaching to athletes and consultation / public speaking services to teams and coaches. If you are interested in more information please contact us via email at:


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