How Mac apps are transforming world sport

Wiltshire's point about Apple's portable devices brings us onto an area of analysis that's growing incredibly fast. With the iOS family, the analysts are no longer limited to providing feedback after a match or training session - they can now feed live, real-time information straight back to the coaches in the dug-out or on the practice pitch.

Basketball coach Jennings has been one of the first to try out the mobile system, and he's already a big fan. "We're using iPod touches at the moment but we hope to have iPads in the future. Half a dozen pieces of statistical information we want there and then get sent to us as coaches, and we can deal with it. Hopefully with the iPad we'll be able to get visual feedback as well," he enthuses.

Apple kit

APPLE KIT: The Apple kit they use at top sports clubs is the same gear many of us have at home

One of the apps they use is iCODA, which links to CODA, another of Sportstec's products. But a lot of the others are the same apps many of us use on a day-to-day basis, including iTeleport, which enables you to control your computer from an iPad, AirDisplay and Air Sharing.

We go upstairs to see another of the CPA's labs, this one with a range of iMacs of different ages adorning the desks, including some of the first Intel models that are now approaching their fifth birthday. It's a testament to the platform that these machines are still able to run such demanding software, even though we're told they're to be replaced fairly soon.

But it's this quality and longevity of the hardware that's totally won the CPA's technical experts over, for the same core reasons that most of us buy Macs.

"With all the software pushing the machines to the limit, they have to be high spec if you want to watch clips back, scroll through video and do compressions in the background," explains Adam Cullinane, a Performance Analysis Officer, as we sit in his office, stacked to the roof with Apple kit, past and present.

He and his colleague Lucy Holmes, the Performance Analysis Laboratory Director, spend their time pushing the Mac hardware and software to its limits. Their current project is to test an AirPort Extreme outside, so that it can be used at larger sports venues, including those where there isn't an electrical socket available.

"We don't have power at a lot of places," Holmes says. "So we've just bought a portable power unit to see if it can run an AirPort Extreme. When we can set up a wireless network out in the field, we'll be able to take everything we do indoors with the basketball and the iPads and iPod touches, and see what more we can do. We know that with the new laptops we can get a decent enough time off the battery if they're fully charged - we can do what we need to with the Macs during a game."

New applications

ADVANCED ANALYSIS: SportsTec CEO Jon Moore and CPA director Darrell Cobner are constantly finding new ways to make Macs support top athletes

So battery life is a big deal, and knowing that the CPA does use some PC-based software (the iMacs are dual-boot for this purpose), we tentatively enquire if they ever use PC laptops out in the field, away from a power outlet.

"PC laptop? That's a drinks coaster isn't it?" Holmes grins. "Under normal use, I'd probably get three or four hours out of my PC laptop, compared to double that on a Mac - I'll easily get a whole day of working on my MacBook Pro. Now you won't get a whole day doing the video stuff, but you'll get three hours or so, which is plenty for what we need when setting up for a match, plus half time, extra time - you can easily cover that.

"I've never tried doing a match using a PC laptop, and I wouldn't want to! There's no equivalent piece of software [to SportsCode] on the Windows side either," she says. "The other thing about using Apple hardware is that you don't have to trial it too much to know if it's going to work. If you've got one company making the laptops and the peripherals to go with it, they're going to design it to work."

From academic to analyst

The CPA is more than just an innovation centre in performance analysis - as we mentioned earlier, it's also where some of the top teams' analysts learned their trade. Recent attendee Darren Lewis made the short journey across the Severn Bridge to Premiership side Bath Rugby, where he's now their Head Performance Analyst.

Lewis has kept the open-access setup of iMacs that now-Sportstec CEO Moore devised, enabling the players to go and review the footage in their own time. With fellow analysts David Reed and Aled Griffiths, he is now working to stream video into SportsCode at the club's new training ground.

"We'll have multiple cameras directly feeding to the office so that training can be captured and shared live, so the coaches can be on the pitch reviewing things as they happen," Lewis says. "With the introduction of the iPad, this gives the guys the ability to almost instantly view their last actions, so it's a great learning tool.

"Our strength and conditioning department also use MacBook Pros, and it's a huge benefit to have as many people as possible on the same platform so that information can be shared with ease."

The club's match day setup is equally impressive, as the image opposite shows. "We use at least five MacBook Pros during a game, where the coaches all have the ability to review any aspect of play whenever they choose," Lewis says.

"The reliability and functionality of the Mac means we can carry out our daily tasks without the worry of the computer crashing. We use the SportsCode templates to break the game up into relevant pieces - scrums, lineouts, kicks, tackles and so on. The combined power of the Mac and SportsCode makes our lives a lot easier when we're going through training or games."

The data the analysts collect isn't just kept as tables of figures, either, and it's a testament to the power of iWork '09 that the club chooses it over other, more complex packages.

Lewis explains: "The data we collect via SportsCode is all transferred into Numbers. It's extremely similar to Excel, but Numbers allows us to create effective statistical reports really easily. They're simple to understand and visually pleasing.

Huw wiltshire

CHANGE FOR THE BETTER: Former Welsh Rugby Union performance manager Huw Wiltshire believes Mac-based performance analysis has changed sport for the better

Extra edge

"We work directly with the coaches and players, and the information is distributed to their Macs to do their homework on our upcoming opposition. Everything we do is to provide the guys with as much information as possible to put us in the best position to win."

Before he leaves, Lewis can't help but mention the players' passion for all things Mac. "They love them! On the bus to away games there are MacBooks, iPhones and iPads everywhere - I think the majority of the team owns one…"

It struck us during our visit that the reasons Macs are used in elite sport are exactly the same as why the rest of us choose them over their PC counterparts. They very rarely crash, their handling of video is second-to-none, they can multi-task and notebook battery life is stunning.

They're the same machines we all use on a day-to-day basis, and therein lies the power of your Mac.