This year, the U.S. Women's National Team is using technology more so than in years past, in an attempt to gain a competitive advantage. The director for performance science for USA Field Hockey, Dave Hamilton, provided us with information about how his team is using technology in this year’s competition.
The U.S. Women's National Team excels due to its rigorous training methods. For five days a week, 47 weeks each year, the athletes train twice per day in order to develop their skills. According to Hamilton, technology helps to, “describe and contextualize how our athletes respond to the prescribed training content. The information is then used to make smart decisions.” Even though the training program for these athletes is rigorous, Hamilton and his team are able to make sure the athletes stay healthy and keep improving.
As technology has entered the mobile age, USA Field Hockey has adapted. Hamilton describes the team’s training environment as, “a phone and tablet friendly gym where program content and training loads can be altered live on handsets.” He gave a couple of examples of apps they use, RestWise and ILG, that help staff and athletes communicate. This very technologically focused training environment not only helps the athletes train more efficiently, but it also familiarizes the players with this new tech, so they become more comfortable using it.
This year, the U.S. Women's National Team has introduced medically graded compression into their training and competition. Hamilton lauded these compression socks and their ability to provide medical information. “These compression socks,” he explains. “Are individually knitted using the measurements obtained from a 3 dimensional scan of both legs.” Leg and ankle injuries can be very debilitating for field hockey players, so these socks help drastically reduce the risk of injury. However, these socks are more advanced than just data sensors—according to Hamilton, “these medically graded compression stockings are complemented with an electrical stimulation device (firefly) that sits behind the knee and stimulates the body’s natural calf pump.”
Predictably, there exist skeptics to the use of technology in field hockey. For the U.S. Women's National Team, the coaches took longer to convince than the players. “Athlete’s love technology,” added Hamilton. “This is their era! If it is new, shiny and unique, then they are in. If it involves inputting words and qualitatively completing tasks, they are probably out.” Following this trend, the team has also allowed the players to use social media during training sessions (although they are forbidden from sharing strategic data). This open-minded approach is already common in some major sports, but not yet others (just ask Pablo Sandoval). In order to truly reach athletes, sports must embrace the modern era.
In the future, USA Field Hockey plans to stay on the cutting edge of technological innovation. Optimistic about the future of his program’s relationship with technology, Hamilton believes, “there are some excellent advances in wearable technology, such as bio skin sensors, that will go a long way to support our current process.”
The future of field hockey for Team USA is bright. Next season, the players will have had even more time spent with this technology, getting used to wearing it and learning how to best use the information that it provides. As for Hamilton, he will continue to push new technology that can help his team’s performance. “Is it something that can improve training and give us an edge?” asks Hamilton. “If the answer is yes—it’s in.”