How UWA data science students will give elite pole vaulters the edge

30/09/2021 | 3 mins

A group of computer science and software engineering students at The University of Western Australia are gaining real life experience at the cutting edge of elite sports performance thanks to a unique collaboration with the WA Institute of Sport (WAIS).

The students from Coders for Causes are creating a new web-based application aimed at housing a combination of coaching and sports science data that it’s hoped may ultimately help the national pole vault training squad reach greater heights.

Research Director at the UWA/WAIS High Performance Sport Research Centre, Associate Professor Peter Peeling, said the idea for the project came after a Masters student began using a depth perception camera mounted to the bar to track the athlete’s clearances in training and competition.

“At the centre, our goal is to provide high performance sport programs with evidence-based, innovative solutions to performance-driven questions that are generated by coaches and sports programs at the institute,” he said. “We have 10 PhD students currently engaged in answering these questions. 

“One of them, Michael Wijaya, a Masters student from UWA engineering, is using the depth perception camera to capture a number of clearance parameters including the clearance distance as athletes cross the bar, as well as the maximum potential of the jump – lots of valuable data.”

WAIS technical performance specialist, Dr Aaron Balloch, said that added to this, coaches manually collect and collate their own stats around things such as approach length, pole length and flex, grip height and bar stand positioning.

“All of this information was being recorded on paper, with coaches trying to keep track of numerous variables for multiple athletes during competitions where they can change from one vault to another,” Dr Balloch explained.

"We wanted to streamline the process for the coaches and provide an easy-to-use, visually appealing web application that not only allowed them to easily log their data during competition, but also be able to call on previous data at the click of a button."

Dr Aaron Balloch, WAIS

“We wanted to streamline the process for the coaches and provide an easy-to-use, visually appealing web application that not only allowed them to easily log their data during competition, but also be able to call on previous data at the click of a button.

“We knew that storing this information electronically and combining it with the sports science data from the camera would allow us to begin to develop jump profiles for each vaulter to better understand the requirements and setup selections for each of them in a number of different vaulting scenarios.” 

Enter Venture: The Student Innovation Centre, a UWA Student Guild initiative set up to connect students and industry to work on real world problems, with WAIS project lead Thomas Cotter seeing the potential for Coders for Causes to work their magic and not only collate the data but build a web app.

“We worked with WAIS to define the scope of the project and could see what a fantastic opportunity it would be for students in the computer science, data science and software engineering fields to be involved in during their studies – we had more than 80 applications in the end,” Mr Cotter said.

Peter Peeling and Coders for Causes

Image: Associate Professor Peter Peeling (right of picture) with some of UWA's Coders for Causes as they discuss some finer details of the project.

Michael Nefiodovas from Coders for Causes said the project offered student interns practical experience in the workplace by applying the skills they’re learning at university as well as being a great opportunity to build up accredited volunteering hours.

“And we had the chance to work with some pretty amazing people at WAIS, including some Olympic coaches and athletes, it was really nice to collaborate with a whole new group of people,” Mr Nefiodovas said, adding that the Coders would continue to work on developing the web app during their summer break.

“We can see that the outcomes from this project will be translated directly into the training environment of pole vault athletes, having real implications for elite athletes training in this sport, where Western Australia has had a significant history of success,” Associate Professor Peeling said.

“We’ve drawn together a significant multidisciplinary team of sports scientists, engineers, computer programmers, data scientists, coaches and athletes. Ultimately, we hope the program can better help to prepare our students for the workforce, while enhancing their experience with us at UWA.”

Media references

Associate Professor Peter Peeling, UWA School of Social Sciences, 0410 667 532
Liz McGrath, UWA Media Advisor, 0433 795 509

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