There’s a lot going on under the hood when basketball players take to the court. In an effort to track and measure how players perform, SportVU stats tracking was introduced league-wide earlier this season. However, the complex series of motion-tracking cameras can’t enumerate a player’s mental state, nor his physiological stresses. Enter Catapult Sports, the wearable player analytic system that Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban just invested in last week, according to the Australian Financial Review.
In as many words, Catapult has succeeded where many commercially-available basketball and sports trackers have failed: it has actually been picked up by teams hoping to play smarter. In fact, it has been for quite some time. Current users include Cuban’s team, the Houston Rockets, Philadelphia 76ers, New York Knicks, San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors, according to Catapult’s website. The system has also found a home among various soccer and football teams. Apparently, the company has accurately billed itself “the most used secret in sport.”
Not unlike other wearables or electronic basketballs used to help coaching efforts, Catapult transmits the data it collects to various devices such as computers, iPhones and iPads. The top-of-the-line sensors it has on board, however, separate it from the pack. Among the more than 100 parameters it measures strapped against an athlete’s chest, you’ve got GPS tracking, distance, velocity, direction change, heart rate and changes in acceleration. All of them can nonetheless stand up to a pounding out on a court.
While each parameter is useful in its own right, the measurements all come together in Catapult’s PlayerLoad metric, which the company claims has been validated by universities worldwide. By establishing each players’ norms, the algorithm can notify coaches if their squads pushed too hard during practice, and have opened themselves up to injury risks on gameday. It can also provided feedback on a player’s return to form after an injury.
The indoor system (Catapult also boasts outdoor and open field versions) combines the OptimEye T5 wearable tracker with ClearSky, a positioning system. Rather than using space-based satellites for positional GPS tracking that are easily blocked by most stadium roofs, it allows teams to outfit their stadiums with ClearSky “nodes” to be used as more reliable reference points. Interestingly, this results in a readout different from something you’d see in SportVU—that is, players won’t move like robots at perfect rates. The system is so precise, you’ll see the gait of their steps.
It looks like Cuban may have hit on the right investment. According to AFR, the company’s client list has exploded to 400 professional squads worldwide, or 10 per cent of global teams that pull in more than $1.5 million a year—and that’s from 250 a mere 18 months ago. SportVU may work for the fans, but the professionals use Catapult.