My research topic is focused on mapping out the responses in the sprint start in athletics. My research is part of the Feasibility Analysis of Sprint Start Technologies group within the PESS Biomechanics Research Unit.
I investigate the sprint start response times particularly, how reactions times are detected during a sprint start while examining both the hardware and software used. A new UL devised false start system was created which incorporates equipment including accelerometers and force sensors to detect response in the hands, feet and on the block rail for sprints starts. The custom system was developed years ago and we continue to refine, amend and improve the system through research, investigation and continued testing and pilot testing.
The steps for completing our testing:
1. Research and investigation
2. Group consensus and plan
3. Work with technicians
4. Analyse Reliability and validity
5. Develop systems for pilot testing
6. Pilot test & synchronisation of all systems
7. Depending on results proceed to plan full testing or revert to step 2.
8. Complete full setup of the whole system
9. Data Collection: Test participants
10. Analyse results
11. Continue testing participants or amend the system if required and start all over.
One of the most important aspects is to complete a good quality data collection session. Without volunteers participating there would be no research or data to analyse or compare, so we need to make it enticing by providing participants with relevant feedback including timing gate data and Optojump Data which we incorporate and synchronise with our UL devised system.
At stage 8 which we complete a full setup in the lab (usually takes one hour) prior to every single testing session conducted on running tracks. We book out all equipment, allocate time slots to athletes and aim to provide as smooth a testing session and ensure data collection goes as smoothly as possible.
We plan everything and run the systems several times but even in setup sometimes synchronisation between systems is off or equipment just doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s an easy fix, sometimes a broken cable that we eventually find and have to contact the technicians (Steve or DJ) for urgent repairs. We carry spares of everything we can but sometimes you need a fix on the go.
I know some students find issues with equipment, it happens and is extremely frustrating and stressful. Simple things go wrong equipment works when you do a run through and a couple of hours later after you move it, it doesn’t. We completed a full run through recently and less than 24 hours later in set up for participants we had 3 small issues; a synchronisation issue, a faulty extension lead and a broken cable. There is a lot connections/cables to check overall. Thankfully, we allocated time in setup and rectified prior to testing with the help of the technicians and using spare equipment.
Morale of story from my experience is always allow extra time for setup and to fix any unexpected issues that may occur, bring spares of anything you can. Complete full system setups prior to testing participants, have your own notes if you are unsure about setup. Ensure the system works correctly and that you are gathering the correct information and data. If unsure ask others, research staff, staff, supervisors or technicians within the department. Everyone wants clean quality data sets and people within the department are always more than willing to help and assist if they can.
The important thing is to gather a high-quality data set with as few headaches and stresses possible both on the researchers and participants. The image used is just an illustration of an athlete being tested using some similar equipment but is not directly from my research.
In my PhD Journey there is no greater feeling than at the end of a successful testing session and getting to analyse the data where you either submit it as part of a thesis, a conference paper or a journal article.
Jonathan Holmes is a PhD Student in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences, UL.