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SAS: Is AI the Future for British Rowing?

Rowing is a “data rich” sport and British Rowing already uses multiple data sources to better understand elite level performance. The more coaches understand the data, the more they can combine it with their own expertise to make evidence-based decisions, improving training and performance. The sport, like many businesses, might also be set to benefit from a technology that’s not short of hype – Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Louise Kingsley, British Rowing’s Development Pathway and Paralympic Programme Manager, understands the importance of collecting a variety of information including biomechanical statistics, historical race performance and even psychological data.

Although Kingsley admits that this data output hasn’t been fully exploited, since 2004, British Rowing coaches have made strides to improve this through the Athlete Longitudinal Profiling project. This tracks data of elite athletes and rowers on the Development Pathway scheme, identifying those prospects most likely to achieve success at the highest level.

“Project ALP”, as it’s known at British Rowing’s Caversham training base, has tested nearly 1,000 athletes since its inception, helping to build a profile on each rower in the database, highlighting their strengths and weaknesses. This analysis provides a deeper understanding of the trends of each athlete over time, using statistical evidence to improve the quality of rowers in the national team.

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The success of the team at the last four Olympic Games is proof that it’s paying dividends, however Kingsley understands that for a sport where the majority row as part of a crew, individual profiling can only take them so far.

As part of the partnership extension with British Rowing, SAS will continue working as the Official Analytics Partner until at least 2020, helping staff to analyse the more general, rather than individual, trends to exploit the data over the longer term.

By unearthing deeper levels of data analysis as part of Project ALP, SAS will help to develop talent in the long term, however, as technology advances and AI becomes more mainstream, can it be used to help to unearth the next generation of rowing champions?

With the amount of data that SAS software could analyse, not only from training sessions on the water and ergo machines, but also through wearable technology which helps to monitor sleep cycles and recovery speeds, a complete picture of an athlete’s progression could be measured. This opens the door to the possibility of AI technology helping refine and optimize training programmes for each individual based on this wide dataset.

Just 10 years ago the thought of using AI to analyse athlete performance might have seemed far-fetched, yet the same could have been said 15 years ago about current data analysis in sport. The technology is undoubtedly improving and the prospect of individually tailored training regimes and more accurate predictions for setting targets could keep British Rowing on top of the medal table for a few years yet.

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