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Transformational automation and data visualisation: SWA

Sports & Wellbeing Analytics (SWA) was founded with the objective of improving the health of sports players – initially focusing on rugby players – by applying the latest developments in science and technology to real-world wellbeing problems, using real-time analytics for predictive intervention.

Measuring impact through mouthguards

To capture collision impact data in tackles, SWA created a smart mouthguard fitted with accelerometers and gyroscopes, which can record linear and rotational acceleration and deceleration of head movement during play. This pioneering technology enabled the creation of the PROTECHT system, where scientists can determine and report on the severity of contact on players, and study the effects of severe or repeated impact on player performance and wellbeing.

“One of the things which we’ve realised through our data is that the cumulative load on athletes is very important,” says Tom Scott, Head of Technical Development at SWA. “It’s not just the big hits which have an effect. And you can get better performance if that is measured and managed.”

This discovery is helping protect the health of players and improve performance within teams. For example, the Harlequins rugby team use this data to load-balance their team within training sessions, monitoring hit rate and swapping players on as needed to ensure no single team member bears excessive impact. Because head traumas can be fatiguing, limiting impact during weekday training results in better performance on weekend matches.

“Harlequins have been a very keen user and a great advocate,” says Tom. “And the system has been a building block of their success.” ‘Success’ refers to the Quins’ 2021 Premiership win, the first time in nine years the team have taken the title, and the first Premiership they competed in since adopting the PROTECHT system.

SWA's Protecht system and Gloucester

Inefficiencies around data extraction

SWA’s mouthguard is already transforming training regimens within rugby teams and the company has found additional use cases across other sports, including boxing and bobsleighing. However, while the mouthguard itself is highly advanced, PROTECHT’s post-event reporting system processing required too much additional manual effort to deliver the final results. This meant that SWA’s data scientists were spending excessive amounts of time cleaning up hundreds of lines of input to extract the required data, creating system inefficiencies and increasing risk of error.

illumo digital proposed a swift business transformational fix: to automate data processing and generate visual reports. This would make better use of data scientists’ time and skillsets, in addition to providing clear and engaging reporting that could be understood across the business.

From manual to automated

Helastel (now illumo digital) created the platform using Microsoft’s Power BI technology. To automate the data processing, we used an Extract Transport Load tool to turn the raw data into a series of views. The data was automatically processed and displayed in user-friendly graphical visualisations. The new system was far more efficient than previously, enabling data scientists to focus their time and efforts on interpreting the analytics rather than preparing them. 

Tom and his team were impressed by illumo digital’s approach to software design. “Compared to other software companies, one of the differences we noticed was Helastel’s strong business analysis piece, and getting the requirements understood and refined, so forming that bridge between what we wanted to do, and translating that into a technical solution. It was something that we found very useful. And the collaborative work on finalising the reports was great as well. We had a good relationship.”

SWA’s new system has provided the cornerstone of their future business intelligence offering. Tom comments: “The impact will be from the start of next season when we can hit the ground running. It will make life a lot better for our clients as the post-session analysis will be given in a much more timely way, and it will save a lot of laborious work for our sports scientists, who currently assemble the report on spreadsheets.

“I would recommend Helastel (now illumo digital) to others. They’ve got a refreshingly cooperative way of doing things. It’s a pleasant experience.”

Top picture: Cardiff Blues vs Ospreys: Gareth Anscombe of Cardiff Blues beats tackle by James King of Ospreys to score a try.

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