While I may be just a lowly sports tech writer, I’ve also spent years racing competitively as an alpine ski racer (see the above photo). I know a thing or two about high-level athletics and what I’m about to say may come as a surprise:

I’ve yet to find a wearable that’s worth my while.

There are countless tech products aimed at athletes, promising to help them improve their performance by providing insights into their daily habits. Fitness bands and activity trackers are probably the most ubiquitous products on the market, but the names don’t really matter: they all tend to be versions of the same thing.

A standard wearable nowadays will usually include a semi-accurate heart rate monitor, step counter, calorie tracker and maybe a GPS. While these features are novel to some, the data they produce is both overwhelming and unhelpful to the majority of elite athletes. In fact, the only times I’ve seen athletes using such devices is if they have an endorsement deal with the company manufacturing them (think Kim Kardashian and Skechers).

Also, the price tag on most of these devices is well over what many financially struggling athletes could possibly afford. The life of a Canadian athlete is not as glamorous as you might imagine, largely due to a lack of funding and pressure to remain an amateur for NCAA eligibility.

Besides, most high-level athletes are used to tracking their own progress in a training journal: when it comes to training, you are your own best coach.

That’s not to say that wearables are not present at all in sport. In fact, many professional teams are starting to integrate sophisticated analytics into training and competition. I’m simply saying that the majority of wearables on the market targeted at serious athletes are missing the mark.

Admittedly, there are a number of niche products that offer extremely specific data to certain kinds of athlete, and that seems to be where the market is heading.

The concept of personal data tracking and analytics is a solid one in theory – the technology just isn’t where it needs to be… yet.

And until there is a product that can present athletes with useful data and a simple way to process it, there’s no room for the generic fitness band in athletic competition.

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  • HermanBonner

    Hi Jackie, interesting (bold) take on popular subject. And I especially enjoy the point you make about each athlete being their own best coach. I couldn’t agree more.
    That said, I am a little confused by the fact that you don’t attempt any differentiation within the wearables market. There are certainly some products that are well suited (and specifically designed) to service the specific requirements of professional or elite amateur athletes, and others that offer some similar sounding features that are not. I also don’t quite follow your position regarding cost. Even most high-end devices are much cheaper than most smartphones. And in the context of competitive sports, a quality sports watch is probably small line item compared to sports specific equipment (competitive ski gear, for example), competition costs, or even coaching/training/facility use costs.