2018 fall season is coming to an end. For the SmartPaddle users this was the first season when a bigger group of people used regular force measurements to assist their daily training. In the Finnish Swimming Championships 33% of the participating clubs are using SmartPaddle.
The SmartPaddle users were doing well in the competition and it was debated whether the success was normal or not. To get facts to the debate, we carried out a statistical comparison between the users and non-users.
Data indicates that the performance of the SmartPaddle users was clearly better than normal. Compared to reference group the SmartPaddle users had 33% higher improvement in their personal bests (PBs). The difference comes from the fact that more than 50% of the improvements in reference group was less than 1sec per 100m and for the SmartPaddle users more than half of the improvements were 1.6sec or more. The difference in the median of the improvement was 69%
Swimmers for the evaluation were selected based on the results in Finnish Championships using the following criteria:
- swimmer placed within top10 in some of the events
- swimmer had 2 or more PB in an event where they had official time during a year
61 swimmers fulfilled the criteria from 20 different clubs. 16 of them were SmartPaddle users from 8 different clubs. Swimmer qualified as a SmartPaddle user if he/she has received regular feedback during the season using the system. In the reference group there were swimmers that had received individual feedback, but they were not included into SmartPaddle group.
The average age of the SmartPaddle users was 17 (standard deviation 2.7). and in reference group 17.5 (standard deviation 2.7). From this perspective the groups were similar.
There were differences between the groups in sex, distances and strokes. The impact of these parameters was analysed using the distribution and average improvements. According to the analysis there was no statistically significant impact on the results (0.07sec in favour of non-users)
For the qualified swimmers we compared improvements in PBs. The improvement was calculated by comparing PB at the start of the season to the time at the Championships. Different distances were normalized by calculating the average improvement per 100m. The same analysis was done also using percentage of improvement. The results were similar and therefore improvement per 100m was used.
On average the swimmers had 3.6 PBs in the competition (variation from 2 to 10 per swimmer). The average improvement in whole of the group was 1.53sec/100m.
Summary of the results for the groups can be found below. The numbers in parenthesis are for the reference group:
- number of PBs in competitions: 3.8 (3.5)
- average improvement per 100m: 2.04sec (1.33sec)
- median of improvement per 100m: 1.64sec (0.97sec)
- average improvement per swimmer: 1.72sec (1.29sec)
- percentage of improvements bigger than 3sec/100m: 25% (10%)
There are multiple factors impacting the performance in main competition. Force measurement is one of the aspects impacting the improvement seen in the data. In order to understand more about the role of SmartPaddle, we carried out an interview with the coaches and athletes. They were asked if something was now different compared to previous seasons and how they see that it impacted on the performance of the athletes.
The general comment was that using SmartPaddle and the help from the user community has had a positive impact. The most recurring comment was verbalized by Marja-Leena Viinamäki (KemTU): “SmartPaddle has helped to zoom into the relevant things”. Measurement shows not only what the movement looks like, but also the impact to the swimming speed. One coach said: “I look at swimming differently now”. Human observation capability is limited and there are things we cannot see. SmartPaddle seems to be improving the coaches eye to recognize the relevant details.
“What you see with your eyes is not necessarily real” (Haruki Murakami)
Another recurring comment was that it has been beneficial to see the concrete progress. Even though they knew where to focus, making consistent changes to swimmer’s technique was a challenge. Coaches used the recurring concrete feedback to challenge the way they coach and try out different things to help swimmers find improvements. Each of them commented that they are now doing things differently than earlier. It seems that SmartPaddle has built the courage and confidence for coaches to change the daily routines: by detailed measurement you know WHAT MUST BE CHANGED TO GO FASTER and with quick feedback it is possible to ensure that the change was to the correct direction.
“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often” (Winston Churchill).
Athletes commented that “now I know what to concentrate on”. In many of the cases it was something that the coach had commented already earlier, but the measured facts enabled swimmers to understand what they meant. They commented also that “I can now work with the details of my stroke”. The specific feedback helped them to more clearly recognize the phases of their stroke and the impact of those for the overall efficiency. There were also examples where swimmers themselves had identified new drills and exercises which they found useful for themselves. It seems SmartPaddle is helping the swimmer to become more aware of their movement and be more proactive on improving their technique.
For the actual competition situation it was harder for coaches to identify concrete difference. The general feeling was that as the swimmers have been more focused on details in normal training, that must have had an impact also in the competition. More concrete comments were received from Karl Lydman (VUS-VSS). They measured race simulations with SmartPaddle. The measurement enabled identifying the rootcauses for the changes in the laptimes. Due to the short season there was no time to check if the swimmer was able to do the changes, but the strategy for the race was to focus on the things identified in the analysis. The result in the competition was 7.5sec improvement in 400m freestyle.
Anttoni Laitinen (Vanders) commented that “snowball is rolling”. The system has been used only a few months and the results look like this. For the next season more important than the results, is the knowledge that the coaches and athletes have gained through the measurements. This knowledge and the resulting boost in motivation will ensure that the learning will only speed-up. It will be interesting to see if the same progress can be repeated with bigger group of people in the coming summer. Based on what we have seen and learned about the potential of the system, there is no reason why we wouldn’t see the same thing happening again.
In Finland we are closely co-operating with the community of SmartPaddle users. For the summer season we agreed that common development target is to link the monitoring of technical improvements to regular race simulations. This will boost the common understanding on how the training transfers to competition and further helps to focus on the daily training. The concrete target is that before the summer championships each of the swimmers would have at least three race simulations measured with SmartPaddle.