Athlete and coach perceptions of technology needs for evaluating running performance

Athletes and their support team utilise technology to measure and evaluate technique and athletic performance. Existing techniques for motion and propulsion measurement and analysis include a combination of indirect methods (high-speed video) and direct methods (force plates and pressure systems). These methods are predominantly limited to controlled laboratory environments (in a small area relative to the competition environment), require expert advice and support, and can take significant time to evaluate the data. Consequently, the more advanced measurement techniques are considered to be restricted to specific coaching sessions, or periods in the year leading up to competition, when the time and expertise of further support staff are available. The more widely used, and simple, devices for monitoring 'performance' during running include stopwatches, GPS tracking and accelerometer-based systems to count strides. These provide useful information on running duration, distance and velocity but lack detailed information on many key aspects of running technique. In order to begin the process of development of more innovative technologies for routine use by athletes and coaches, a study was required to improve the understanding of athletes' and coaches' perception of their requirements from measurement technology. This study outlines a systematic approach to elicit and evaluate their perceptions, and presents the findings from interviews and a questionnaire. The qualitative data are presented as a hierarchical graphical plot (structured relationship model) showing six general dimensions (technique, footwear and surface, environment, performance, injury and cardiovascular) and shows the development of these general dimensions from the interviewee quotations. The questionnaire quantitative data enhances the study by further ranking characteristics that arise from the interviews. A contrast is shown between short and longer distance runner groups, as might be expected. The current technology available to elite runners is briefly reviewed in relation to the 22 characteristics identified as important to measure. The conclusions highlight the need for newer technologies to measure aspects of running style and performance in a portable and integrated manner, with suggestions as to size and weight likely to be acceptable to users for emerging devices. © 2010 International Sports Engineering Association.