Years ago, I wrote an article on contact mats that certainly made a splash online, as roughly 10,000 readers found the blog useful for testing and training. The reason for its popularity was that coaches wanted something simple and easy that they knew would work for small groups or team testing. The irony was that contact mats are not really innovative, as they have been around for decades.
Ultrasonic timing, on the other hand, is now nearly mainstream due to the popularity of radar guns and Swift. If you time athletes and want to know why you might be misleading your athletes with short sprints or agility testing, this article covers some important information on the validity of testing and why technology determines the accuracy, precision, and reliability of athlete performance. Finally, this article covers what Swift timing is and how you can/why you should use it with your athletes.
What Is Ultrasonic Timing?
If you don’t read this section, I wouldn’t blame you, as most coaches just want to know what to get and how to use it, but bear with me. Ultrasonic timing is simply radar, but instead of using it to see if a plane is nearby or for estimating speed with law enforcement, this technology is useful for running speed for small distances. If you have a new car, much of the new technology for driver assistance uses ultrasonic sensors.
Coaches are familiar with the use of a sports radar gun, a common tool for measuring pitching velocity in baseball. Years ago, when sport scientists were using it to profile the acceleration curve in sprinting, I was critical because its use was both dated and limited for coaching. Radar guns are fine for assessing athletes for research, but they are not the only option for researchers. Continuous laser timing is excellent for specific analysis, but most coaches can benefit from using segments of times, referred to as splits in some circles. Sprint coaches adopted splits from lap timing, as they needed to break down the event or training distances into more finite measures.
It’s important to know that radar and lasers are both viable options and have their pros and cons. I don’t use radar for continuous assessment of velocity, as laser is the more appropriate tool due to its ability for live feedback and synchronization of contact times during sprinting. Radar is valid, but it’s especially useful for short measurements when the right technology is used.
I could get into details such as frequency modulation, continuous wave, pulse-doppler radar, and coherent pulsed technology, but the main takeaway is that radar is useful for sports performance. It’s not perfect, as some use cases such as vertical medicine ball throws require expensive mounting and constrained testing, but generally it’s viable for many worthwhile assessment purposes.
Are Your First 10 Meters or Yards Accurate or Reliable?
The three most important reasons to upgrade to Swift timing are accuracy of early acceleration, ability to see the turning radius, and creation of custom tests on the SYNCRO app. This section dives into the first 5-10 meters or yards, a key measure of sport where just a small separation is the difference between winning and losing. Due to the popularity of distance testing, coaches publicly post their athletes’ numbers, and nearly all the times are inaccurate for reasons I explained earlier. Coaches and scientists should know that Swift was designed for accuracy, and my goal is to raise the point that we need valid timing data. The combination of technology and protocol, along with context for the information, is the only way to illustrate an athlete’s ability.The three most important reasons to upgrade to Swift timing are accuracy of early acceleration, ability to see the turning radius, and creation of custom tests on the SYNCRO app. Click To Tweet
Nearly all the timing devices on the market are beam and tripod gates, and while this is functional, it’s not perfect. I roll my eyes when I see coaches use Brower timing and rolling starts in conjunction with poor sensor placement. They are not timing properly, and they make things worse when they post videos like they’re evidence of successful coaching.
Let’s stop fooling ourselves and stop the madness of world-class sprint times being performed by teenagers in team sports. In order to capture the first movement, you need the right technology that can identify true displacement and motion with small units of measure. A beam is primitive and relies too much on a passing or moving limb. The best systems are able to detect the motion of a start, and that requires continuous sampling by either laser or radar.
The product does use some programming to infer the detection of motion, as a small twitch to a finger doesn’t represent efforts to move or displace, but it could trip a sensor. The MOVE Sensor contains both a Class 2 laser and ultrasonic motion technology. Based on available information, the expectation is that the coach places the system behind the athlete for more robust standing start sprint assessments instead of trying to reposition it based on athlete preference. To me, it’s a perfect combination of uncompromising effort for accuracy and not forgetting the conveniences coaches need in the trenches.
Video 1. You can use the MOVE Sensor in multiple ways, including traditional first step (burst) and the new motion detector approach with the radar feature. Depending on your population and training or testing purpose, each approach has benefits and specifications.
Really short sprints of a few steps are susceptible to the influence of fatigue, surfaces, chronobiology, caffeine, and motivation. Not using accurate timing only invites more uncertainty and has no place in sports science today. Coaches, and I was one of them, tend to want cheap tools, and you find out later that it’s not just accuracy you want—you also want convenience.
To me, reliable timing means you can use it for training speed, but without accuracy you don’t know an athlete’s true abilities. When a coach says, “I just need something useful,” they want something reliable. Usually, if the system isn’t accurate, reliability is also a fault, and I recommend coaches add video analysis to all systems as backup.
Turning Radius – The Next Big Thing
The enormous adoption of curved sprinting in training stemming from wise coaching methodology inspired me to write an article on the subject. The real question is how measuring the smaller turning radius of athletic motions outside of nearly linear sports can help coaches and athletes become more effective in training. My suspicion is that turning radius is more about checks and balance and adding context than chasing a unicorn metric.
This is not a knock on the turning radius metric; it’s merely a warning that you should focus on training and making it better rather than chasing a score and neglecting actually getting better at a sport. In short, the turning radius metrics provided by the NEO
Turning radius is about maintaining speed rather than a full change of direction at high speeds. How an athlete weaves is not the same as how fast they can run a bend or curvilinearly sprint. Weaving is growing in popularity, as it’s dynamic enough to create value but controlled enough to be safe for nearly all purposes in training.
Coaches will find the benefits of weaving from training and testing the quality and knowing how to progress from slower and gentle curves to more demanding movements. Again, weaving is not sharp zigzags or redirection cutting; it’s maintaining speed and direction with some narrow, offset curve running. Learning to weave effectively takes time, but it’s a great way to make athletes who play sports like football, soccer, and basketball more dangerous.
Video 2. The ability to weave and corner is similar to curved running, but it is more demanding coordination-wise. Practicing and testing weaving and cornering is important for many team sport athletes.
The maximum turning radius of Swift is 5 meters, meaning the sensor isn’t designed to test long distances but to help coaches with weaving between small spaces. The distance captured is just long enough for athletes to feel comfortable navigating through without being afraid of hitting the tripods. To me, tripods are only acceptable if the hardware is useful, otherwise continuous lasers by Ergotest for linear sprinting and magneto cloud products like Freelap are more appropriate. Remember, this feature is not about using change of direction tests with athletes to look high tech, it’s about adding more resolution to the tests we have grown to love.
Building Your Own Custom Testing Battery
Nearly all timing systems are mainly linear speed measurement tools with some change of direction options, but Swift is different. In short, timing systems are designed for common tests, while Swift takes athlete assessment to the next level by empowering coaches to design tests.Timing systems are designed for common tests, while Swift takes athlete assessment to the next level by empowering coaches to design tests, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
I will spend just a short period of time here to cover the essentials, but it’s worth noting that if you are interested in having a system accommodate your needs, Swift has an app that turns the coach into a master chef. The SYNCRO app runs the testing, as you may have guessed, but it’s more than just a way to capture times—it’s a design studio for countless tests. The freedom to test the way you want comes in handy when the common tests don’t meet your needs, such as the countless change of direction tests and training patterns that athletes require. The app is intuitive and very reflective of hardware engineering, meaning it has a sense of smart design and attention to detail.
The cloud component of the system complements the app on the testing design. Coaches may skip to other parts of the article, but if you really care about time management, you need to care about athlete management. For me the most boring parts of sales or marketing brochures are strangely the most important for workflow and job performance.
The Swift cloud tools are more than just roster management; the system includes analytic tools for performance evaluation and, of course, an API to connect to your athlete management system. Keep in mind that the cloud software system includes EZ Jump data, so if you are a fan of contact mats and basic athletic testing, the cloud integration is a nice feature to work with.
What’s Included in the Box
With Swift you certainly get what you pay for, as every element inside the case is an impressive display of sports technology. Swift is like Apple in its effort to make sure the user experience is top-notch. The best example is the aerospace chassis, and the quality of the tripods gives the coach confidence that Swift takes the job of timing seriously. Small attention-to-detail nuances in devices and purpose behind design are signs of trust and effort that mean a lot in this small world of sports tech.Swift is like Apple in its effort to make sure the user experience is top-notch, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
Depending on your system, each coach will have a few sets of tripods, with each set having a reflector to complement the timing unit. Most coaches will prefer to have one MOVE Sensor, or a specialty starting device that precisely acquires true first motion or displacement so short 5-meter splits are accurate. Coaches who are familiar with dual beam or repeated beam measurement will acknowledge that sprint times will appear slower, but in reality, they are just more accurate.
Besides the main sensors, there are aspects I will cover quickly just to make sure I answer what is essential. The product is iOS-compatible and offers smartphone and tablet apps that really demonstrate a vision of the future. In addition to the apps, the product has options for cloud software, and their API connects to CoachMePlus for those wanting seamless software integration. Last, but not least, the recharging of the system requires very little effort: simply plug the case into the wall outlet and the system uses induction charging.
Every facet of the product screams engineering masterpiece, and so far, I have been happy with the system for combine testing and group timing. Strength coaches should think about agility, as the product really is geared to take speed assessment out of the linear world, and I am only scratching the surface today. Yes, it’s that versatile and is one of the best sports technology products available.
Time with Confidence and Purpose
My case for Swift is rather cut and dry—you need to budget for it because it’s worth it. Those testing athletes professionally should use it over any other NFL Combine product, as the MOVE Sensor is state of the art. In my opinion, it’s one of the best sports technologies of the last few years. Honestly, it’s an important step forward in assessing athlete performance and capabilities.The core reason you should invest in the Swift timing system is that accuracy with early acceleration matters, and agility beyond the 5-10-5 is vital for your training or business. Click To Tweet
Realistically, the core reason you should invest in the system is that accuracy with early acceleration matters, and agility beyond the 5-10-5 is vital for your training or business. I have been very cautious about recommending products until a year goes by, and now it’s crystal clear that Swift has made history in sport technology. Without question, ultrasonic timing is here to stay, and I know in the future we will use more of it or similar measurements to help athletes improve.
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