How the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 gives Harlequins a competitive edge
You might not think of rugby as a high-tech sport, but things have changed massively in the past 10 years. The sport has grown more professional, and there's more money involved. With more money comes better tools to improve performance, but also more pressure to succeed - not just in the way all sportspeople want to succeed, but in ensuring sponsorship and other financial opportunities can carry on.
So when Samsung approached Harlequins about using its Galaxy Note II, the team leapt at the opportunity. They were excited about the technology but, in a world where every tiny advantage makes a difference, you have to jump on every option to improve. And while the team hadn't used Android before, technology has been playing a part for a long time now, and it's paying dividends - as you can see by the Quins' recent Aviva Premiership winning performance.
Perhaps what's most surprising is the passion with which the team talk about the Note 2. Of course, we were sold on it as a device when we reviewed it, but the Quins' coaches were all very honest with us about the device. Until recently, sporting technology has been dominated by Apple.There are lots of iPads and Macs running specialised software that helps the team monitor their performance, but the transition to Android has presented no real problems at all.
When we talked to the coaches, they were full of praise for both the device itself, and also some of the apps available on multiple platforms. Dropbox, for example, is used extensively for storing video clips from matches. The team can then look at them during practice to give advice on technique, and to make sure that players aren't wasting practice time with flawed moves. This is a boon because previously you would have had to get players into the office to watch video playback, something that eats into valuable practice, or rest time, when it's far better addressed while out on the field.
Also used for matches is EyeTV, which allows the coaching staff to pause and rewind live TV. This allows them to see what's going on during the game, and to make adjustments. Rugby, thankfully, doesn't have the same attitude to video support that football has had until very recently. And it seems that this is a valuable tool for the team.
There's also a lot of focus on the players, both in terms of the amount of practice they're doing and how they eat. During training, each player wears a GPS tag which allows the coaches to see who is working hard, who's slacking off - seriously, it happens apparently - and who is overworking themselves. Then there are other tools that enable the coaches to keep an eye on what everyone is eating, and make sure diets are properly balanced.
Conor O'Shea, head of rugby for Harlequins, told us that the GPS system the team uses is incredibly accurate. It's locally based, with the data is stored on a computer in the office. Before the Note, you'd have to go back upstairs to look at it, which could mean people just didn't bother. Now, the Note II gives them access to that data in real time, which allows them to manage the team's practice better. We got the distinct impression that meant telling people off, and O'Shea even mentioned fines. This is a job like any other, and performing is essential.
Of course, a lot of this could be done on any phone, so why is the team so sold on the Note II? Well, the S Pen has a lot to do with it. Currently, a lot of the stats are stored in an Excel spreadsheet that's stored on a desktop computer. The coaches access their desktop machines over VNC - remote desktop - which allows them to both see and update spreadsheets. The combination of the large screen on the Note, and the pen, means that you can accurately make changes, rather than stabbing at a small screen with your cold fingers. Let's not forget here, that rugby players are not usually all that petite, so large devices work well for their less-than-dainty hands.
The pen is also useful for annotating images and video. An app called Coach's Eye allows trainers to record video on the Note, then show the players afterwards how they could improved and to annotate it with lines and drawings that indicate where the work needs to be done. Mark Mapletoft, former Quins player and now backs coach, told us that it could really help young players with less experience and would prevent players "picking up bad habits". These apps work on other phones too, but the Note's pen is the key here, giving a level of accuracy that you can't get with a finger, or even a third-party capacitive pen.
From our short time at the club's training ground in Guildford, it felt like everyone - even the self-proclaimed computer illiterates - could see the benefits. Line-out captain George Robson showed us his plans for this Saturday's game, but made us promise not to photograph his phone for fear it would give the game away. He was totally sold on the whole device, and that's after just a few weeks with it. And everyone is excited about what the future holds too - new apps and perhaps a way of tying all the information together in one place.
As Conor O'Shea says: "In the game of rugby, and sport in general, everyone does the same thing, but what you're looking to do is make sure you do things more efficiently, and better, and that's what we're able to do with this."