Inside Sport

How Sports And Sleep Science Helped Australia Reach FIFA World Cup

By scott21 - 6 Dec 2017 3:15 AM

How Sports And Sleep Science Helped Australia Reach FIFA World Cup

Advancements in technology are transforming the sports science space for professional athletes and their coaches, who are utilizing groundbreaking new methods to ensure their players get an extra 1-2% edge over the competition.

From eye-tracking technology that aims to boost performance in critical situations, sleep science programs to improve recovery and virtual reality technology that can help injured players return to peak performance, there is an explosion of new technology that is enabling sports scientists and coaches to get more effective results out of their players and in turn deliver more successful outcomes.

The Australian national football team (The Socceroos) under the guidance of experienced sport scientist Dr. Craig Duncan is no exception here and has utilized an array of innovative sports science technology in an effort to secure a spot at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Last month, the Socceroos played Honduras in San Pedro Sula for the first leg of their 2018 Russia World Cup qualifier playoff match that resulted in a hard-fought 0-0 draw. Facing a lengthy trip home to Sydney for the return qualifying leg and to play their 23rd match over the course of 29 months, the team pulled out all the stops. Part of this involved chartering a Qantas Airbus 330 from Honduras to Sydney via Honolulu that came complete with massage tables and healthy food options to ensure that the players received the best possible recovery treatment in time for the deciding match in three days’ time.

However, Duncan and his team also had another tech trick up their sleeves, with every player being able to use Australian company Re-Timer’s innovative light therapy glasses in an effort to regulate their sleep patterns and help assist in combatting jet lag during what was a draining 24-hour flight home to Australia.

An Australian success story, the Re-Timer glasses emit a blue-green light that aims to benefit the wearer by suppressing the production of melatonin — the hormone we start to produce at night as we’re winding down for sleep. The light therapy tech enables users to change the time they feel tired and better regulate the body clock, and in the case of the Socceroos, return to peak condition faster than their opposition.

The Socceroos aren’t the only sporting team getting involved in light therapy, with CEO Ben Olsen highlighting that “Re-Timer is being used by professional athletes across many sports. From soccer, to Formula 1 racing and even baseball — everyone wants to reduce fatigue and optimise performance. In a world (elite sports) where 1% can be the difference between winning and losing, Re-Timer provides an extraordinary edge.”

While Socceroos players did the talking on the field to secure a historic 3-1 win at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium to nail their spot in Russia next year, there is no doubt that the sci-fi-looking Re-Timer glasses and the other sports science methods that Duncan and his team deployed also played a vital part in the team’s recovery and ultimate success on the night.

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Last week, I was able to have a chat with Dr.Duncan to and learn more about how the Socceroos used the glasses as well as his thoughts on the future of sports science.

What is your background and history in the sports science space?

CD: I have over 20 years of experience working at the elite level of sport and have a PhD in Sport Science. I also have an academic at the Australian Catholic University (ACU) which has specialised post graduate courses focussing on High Performance Sport.

What technology was used for the Socceroo’s World Cup Qualifiers?

CD: We have used extensive technology over the 22 games including GPS, saliva analysis, heart rate variability measurement, sleep monitoring, cryotherapy and other tech such as retimers and also Blue Light Blocking glasses that enhance sleep and circadium rhythm adaptation. There is an every increasing amount of technology but the most important consideration is how it fits into your overall management system.

Why did the Socceroos and Football Federation Australia invest in these areas for the team?

CD: Our goal is to ensure our players perform at the highest level when required. We are the most travelled team in World International Football and this technology is part of our overall performance strategy. Our players are located throughout the World and much of our work involves monitoring players remotely and we collect daily data on all players that our coaching staff are following. In recent times we have been testing the Apple Watch to enhance this monitoring process and collect even more data. However as previously stated Tech is only good if you know why and how to use it effectively in an integrated system.

How is tech helping to revolutionize the work you do in sports science?

Tech has always been there and forms part of our strategy — I have used GPS since 2004 and seen tech come and go. It is most important BUT again you must know how and when to use it – Its not tech revolutionising football its strategies using tech that can make the difference and give insight.

What new technology are you looking at or would you like to roll out etc the Socceroos?

At present I’m happy where we are at – I’m always looking and evaluating tech so we will see BUT my major task is the integration of remote data and making the monitoring of players a seamless experience using items such as the Apple Watch etc.

Will the Socceroos continue to wear RE-TIMER? Did the device work for the players heading into this Honduras match?

RE Timers maybe used if required but they would be a small component of what we do.

Technology is important in football and all sport if used wisely. Tech must be part of an overall performance strategy that is integrated and makes sound use of the generated data. Unfortunately many use tech to “keep up with the Jones’s” and make no difference with the $ spent. It is not the tech that makes the difference but the overall strategy.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 15: Australia celebrate victory during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers Leg 2 match between the Australian Socceroos and Honduras at ANZ Stadium on November 15, 2017 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Image

How Sports And Sleep Science Helped Australia Reach FIFA World Cup