Fine tune with a freeze-frame
High-tech equipment that helps professional golfers improve their swing or helps Olympic javelin throwers get extra distance is now being used at colleges as sports departments seek to gain an edge.
Biomechanics software, which captures athletes' movements on video and analyses them, was once the preserve of Olympians such as Steve Backley, the javelin silver medallist. Now it has filtered into at least 28 colleges - even 16-year-olds have the chance to benefit from detailed, computer-assisted scrutiny of their performance.
Burnley College in Lancashire is one of the latest to begin using the software. Colum Cronin, its sports programme leader, said the equipment was originally bought to ensure that foundation degree students had access to the same facilities as their university peers, but it had been a huge boon for other students as well.
"It means students can analyse their own performance for A-level PE courses, slow it down, freeze-frame and look at themselves in action to develop their performance," he said.
"The A-level course in particular is about analysing their own performance. They're one step away from going to university and studying other athletes, and the first step is to look at yourself.
"It's strange, like the first time you see yourself on video and your voice seems all wrong, but it does work well."
The Quintic system, in use at Accrington amp; Rossendale and Worksop colleges among others, employs cameras that can slow down motion to one-sixteenth of a second and sensors that provide detailed data about all aspects of an athlete's movements. Students can then compare their technique and posture with that of top professionals and ideal models stored on the system.
Sportsmen such as Backley and Matthew Hoggard, the England cricket swing bowler, credit the system with maintaining their consistency and fine- tuning their performances.
Paul Hurrion, managing director of Quintic Consultancy, said: "Books and theory can achieve a lot, but in using cutting-edge technology to stimulate the mental and perceptional as well as the physical development, athletes can make a huge difference."
Mr Cronin said the system had helped students coach a local gymnastics club, and had prompted clubs as far away as Manchester to get in touch for help. His A-level and Btec students have used it to study everything from the ideal way to take a football penalty kick to comparing their 100m sprint technique with that of Asafa Powell, the world record-holder.
Mr Cronin said today's teenagers found applying technology and science to sports performance completely natural, compared with previous generations when even some elite sportsmen and women were sceptical about preparing for a penalty shoot-out, for example.
"A lot of these students have been brought up with coaches with a sports science background. Their own sporting experiences, even recreationally, are based on doing warm-ups and cool-downs, looking after their nutrition. When they come in at 16, they've experienced all this before, so they're more open to a scientific approach," he said.