Improving Golf Athlete Monitoring with the Open University

Dr Ben Langdown, a Sports Coaching lecturer at The Open University, is currently working with Netsells and Tim Roberts of Scientific Athlete to develop an athlete monitoring app for golfers - AMI Sports: Golf.

The aim of the app is to increase awareness of practice, tournament and training workloads, together with measures of health and wellbeing in the sport of golf.  The original need emerged from research Ben conducted in collaboration with England Golf around measuring junior golfers’ practice and tournament volumes.

The data collected through the new app will lead to an increased number of athlete monitoring variables, captured with increased reliability and efficiency, leading to the publication of original research papers and future coach education. The app will also provide valuable feedback to individual athletes and coaches to help adapt behaviour towards performance and training goals. 

The project has strong commercialisation potential with the opportunity to generate licensing agreements with international golf organisations, college/university/county golf teams, and individual users.

We caught up with Ben to find out more about the project, the research behind the app and how it will impact golfers. 

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How did you come up with the idea for the app?

“The idea was really inspired by some research I have conducted through my role as the England Golf - West Midlands strength and conditioning coach for the under 18’s squads. 

Within that role we were starting to look at how the practice and tournament volumes impacted young golfers. We actually had no idea precisely how many minutes they were spending on the putting green, alongside how many balls they were hitting in practice or in tournaments. Quite simply, this data just didn’t exist because golfers aren’t tracking it. 

We therefore wanted to try and measure what was going on from a volume perspective to then understand how this influences performance and whether this has any impact on long term injury risk.

Initially we were using an excel spreadsheet to collect this data, but as you can imagine asking teenage kids to keep accurate records using a spreadsheet was quite a challenge. Also it was difficult for them to record their data while practicing, so we were relying on them having to remember and record their data back at home, then send it over to us afterwards. 

We had a lot of dropouts and we weren’t exactly sure how reliable the data was either.

We knew we needed some sort of solution to overcome the problem and make the data more reliable, valid and also make the whole process more time efficient and valuable for the golfers. 

Building a mobile application makes a lot of sense. We know golfers have their mobiles on hand while practicing or playing. The app can be there on the device, ready and waiting for them to immediately record their data.”

How can self-generated user data be used to help with training?

“Relying on spreadsheets meant that the golfers weren’t getting any kind of feedback on the stats they were putting forward. They were putting all these numbers for us, but they weren’t getting anything back from it, to answer questions such as, are their practice volumes too high? Are their numbers massively fluctuating week to week (which we know indicates increased risk of injury)?

The app understands what workload the golfers are doing, which helps not only from a golf perspective, but also the strength and conditioning perspective as well. 

We can get a real understanding of wider physical activity too and what somebody is doing on a day to day basis. How this workload changes from day to day, or week to week, or on an ever longer timescale also can have an impact on the injury risk for the individual golfer.

Using the app we can process the data and provide appropriate workload or health and wellbeing type feedback to someone who has a spike in their workload above/below a certain threshold,. Nothing’s actually been done like this before in golf, but we know people do look at this type of data in other sports and training contexts.”

What impact do you think the app will have on the golfers?

“I hope that it will give the golfers an understanding of what they are actually doing (as opposed to their perception of what they are doing) when it comes to both practice and strength and conditioning work. 

From that understanding they will be able to monitor and control their training, which in turn will help them create strategies, alongside the coaching and support staff, to allow them to maximise performance and reduce the risk of injury.

Coaches can also get valuable information from the app, as they can see whether people are practicing and sticking to a training schedule. They will be able to see from the reports generated by the app exactly what each player is doing week to week. 

Golf is one of those sports which you can play for decades. This means that the app and the analysis it provides could literally have a lifelong impact on the players.”

What is your ultimate goal for the app?

"Ultimately what we want to achieve is a platform where coaches can see the data, generate specific reports on a player or group of players and monitor performance alongside physiological and health and wellbeing data, e.g. are there other stresses in their lives that are impacting on their performance and the volumes of training they are completing. 

From a strength and conditioning perspective, we want coaches to be able to use the data to personalise individual training programmes. They can use the daily wellness information that comes through the app and highlight “this player isn’t feeling great today, I need to have a chat with them and potentially reduce the intensity of their training session for today.”