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Innovative technology serves up a new hope to the future of tennis

by david.nunes

Innovative technology serves up a new hope to the future of tennis

The UK’s leading sports engineers, an innovative British technology company and the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) have worked in partnership to look for the first time in 3D detail at the spine during serve.

Good technique is crucial in ensuring optimal sports performance.  However, if that same technique contributes to injury then a sporting career may be over before it has begun.

At the National Tennis Centre, Roehampton, in a recent study the LTA has identified early signs of lower back injury in a significant number of junior players.  These signs have been detected using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) before the players have reported any pain.  It is thought that a service action with excessively high levels of back extension (bending backwards), lateral flexion (side stretching) and rotation (twisting) combined with high levels of acceleration could contribute to an athlete’s risk of injury.

Drawing on the expertise of Loughborough’s Dr Mark King (School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences) – whose extensive work with the ECB has focused on lower back injuries in fast bowlers – and Dr Sean Mitchell (Sports Technology Institute), Loughborough University sports engineers have worked in partnership with Midlands-based Charnwood Dynamics to use its 3D motion tracking hardware combined with new software to look for the first time into the movement of the spine during a serve.  The team captured the service action of a number of high level tennis players including Junior Wimbledon doubles Champion 2010 and Junior Wimbledon singles finalist 2011 Liam Broady during the Wimbledon qualifiers.

Ashley Gray, Loughborough’s sports technology expert seconded to work with Charnwood Dynamics said, “For the first time ever we have been able to look at the spinal motion in detail during the serve.  We hope this project provides a platform for coaches and scientists to apply the technology in future research that is evidently required in this area with the ideal to create a blueprint of a safe and effective technique for the younger player.”

As a result of the project, Charnwood Dynamics also hope to be able to provide a tennis specific test protocol where players and coaches will receive an immediate report of their 3D movements and how these relate to their own normal ranges of motion and crucially when and where this is potentially being exceeded.  It will also providing insight into key limb movements that could also help improve serve performance.

The project was made possible with Government Research Council funding designed to enable companies to engage with British universities, in this case Loughborough’s Sports Technology Research Group.  The Group has a global reputation for working with sports brands and governing bodies including Head, Dunlop Slazenger and the International Tennis Federation (ITF) developing rackets, balls and standard test methods.

About Loughborough University Sports Technology Institute

Loughborough University Sports Technology Institute is a £15M facility housing the Sports Technology Research Group, whose mission is to have a positive global, social and economic impact on sport through excellent engineering research, teaching and enterprise.  The Institute is home to the Sports Technology Research Group, one of the world’s leading research groups of its kind and the largest in the UK. The Group has established an international reputation for its work with global brands including adidas, Callaway Golf, Canterbury of New Zealand, Dunlop, Head, New Balance, Nike, Reebok, Slazenger, Spalding, Speedo and Umbro on the design, simulation, testing and manufacture of sporting goods.

About Charnwood Dynamics

Based on a research heritage that stretches back to the 1970s, Charnwood Dynamics Ltd was established as a trading company in 1988. Throughout its long history, it has remained passionately dedicated to providing quality 3D Movement Analysis Solutions.  Today, this dedication to excellence extends across hardware, software, technical support and consultancy. The world-leading Codamotion range of systems is built in-house, and can be supplied with a range of devices such as force plates and EMG systems. The company head office is in the United Kingdom in Rothley, Leicestershire.

Research Council funding for knowledge transfer

Loughborough University is one of only 12 UK university to be awarded an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council Knowledge Transfer Account to accelerate and increase the social and economic impact of its research.  The initiative builds on Loughborough’s strong links with industry through a range of activities, including two-way secondments, continuing professional development and opportunities to exploit leading-edge research through licensing or new business creation.

About Loughborough University

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It was awarded the coveted Sunday Times University of the Year 2008-09 title, and is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in national newspaper league tables. In the 2011 National Student Survey, Loughborough was voted one of the top universities in the UK, and has topped the Times Higher Education league for the Best Student Experience in England every year since the poll’s inception in 2006. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, the University has been awarded six Queen’s Anniversary Prizes.

Loughborough is also the UK’s premier university for sport. It has perhaps the best integrated sports development environment in the world and is home to some of the country’s leading coaches, sports scientists and support staff. It also has the country’s largest concentration of world-class training facilities across a wide range of sports.

It is a member of the 1994 Group of 19 leading research-intensive universities. The Group was established in 1994 to promote excellence in university research and teaching. Each member undertakes diverse and high-quality research, while ensuring excellent levels of teaching and student experience.

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