Sports have always been about numbers. We obsessively rank and handicap athletes based on averages and percentages. But while we can tally jump shots or backhands, we’ve never been able to fully understand why some are successful and others aren’t. Now manufacturers are releasing equipment embedded with data-gathering capabilities, allowing a first look into the dynamics of any shot.
By and large, the gear will appear unchanged. The Babolat Play tennis racket, for example, has the same weight (300 grams) and balance as the base Pure Drive model—even with a circuit board in the handle. The difference is the mountain of data the equipment collects, much of which can help players improve. For instance, the app for the 94Fifty basketball may offer advice on how to get more arc on your jump shot.
Fans may benefit too. With a fresh set of data to pore over, they’ll have something new to obsess about. Perhaps they’ll even answer that long-vexing question: Was that incredible shot the result of pure skill or just plain luck?
1) Babolat Play
Sensors inside the racket ($399) monitor swing motion and power; frame vibrations also indicate where shots connect with the racket face. The handle also includes a gyroscope, accelerometer, battery, and Bluetooth radio.
2) 94Fifty Smart Sensor Basketball
The regulation-size ball ($295, est.) tracks metrics including dribble control, shot speed, and basket-entry angle.
3) Kayak Power Meter
One Giant Leap, a New Zealand company, developed the Kayak Power Meter ($999) to record a rower’s cadence.
This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of Popular Science.