Industry Market Trends

Will Automated Sports Strike Out?

Aug 17, 2004

New gizmos and materials help athletes hit farther, run longer, and jump higher. Will the competition balance out in the end? See why the experts think technology has its limitations:

In spite of many technical advances, the principles of sports have stayed the same throughout the years. The bottom line is that fancy equipment cannot make up for a lack of athleticism or knowledge of the game. But what can change, and what can't?

Sports, and particularly the equipment used to play them, have undergone change. For example, golf clubs from the turn of the 20th century look a little outdated and clumsy, but they are about the same size, with a grip, shaft, and club head. Today, sleek titanium clubs guarantee a longer shot. But as Clint Wright, a professional golfer pointed out, a golfer may well be driving a ball farther in the wrong direction if the shot if off.

New materials will likely always make a mark on sports. In the case of golf clubs, stainless steel gave way to lighter graphite, followed by an even more stable array of metals. In the 1930s, nylon was invented and became a quick success. Its many applications include sporting wear.

Sporting Manufacturers Association of America's executive Mike May believes that the best is yet to be seen. Technology has taken giant leaps with sports gear – making things lighter, stronger, and increasing their lifespan.

Shoes will soon have their own computers, with balance sensors for older athletes. For music listeners, the tempo will increase with the pace sensed by the shoes. They will also be more shock absorbing.

Just the concept of making things more comfortable or waterproof can encourage more people to participate in the sport, even in inclement weather, and subsequently elevate performance. However, this increase in comfort does nothing to fundamentally change the sport itself.

Plus, new sports will always challenge manufacturers. Recent additions to the sports world have been paintball and roller hockey. Makers of sporting goods had to scramble to add the equipment for these sports to their product lines.

Change comes gradually for everything else, experts say. Henry Petroski, a professor at Duke University in the civil engineering department, believes that limitations will prevent dramatic change to sports and their equipment. For example, things cannot get much bigger, in proportion to the size of the average person.

Equipment cannot change too drastically either because there will be skeptics. Allen Meyer, the president of the Bradenton Runners Club, described the computerized shoe concepts as "goofy". For dedicated athletes, the true intensity of the sport is maintained through training, not wired shoes.

As mentioned earlier, fancy equipment alone cannot make a person a better athlete. Health and physical fitness are the cornerstones. The U.S. currently ranks at the most obese nation on the planet. American children are being diagnosed with diabetes at an alarming rate. New gadgets and gizmos can't take the place of the fundamentals of good diet and exercise.


What's Next?
Jim Brockman
Bradenton Herald, July 29, 2004