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Canadian Hockey Group Scouts Out RFID's Ability to Measure Athletic Skills

The Northern Ontario Hockey Association is exploring the use of passive tags to collect data regarding the performance of teenage players during team tryouts and practice sessions.
By Claire Swedberg

The system developed by NEXT Testing in 2006, and first used by hockey players two years later, consists of speed tests administered by HockeyTech, which provides the results to the hockey team. The solution employs IR sensors that send 34 beams across sections of an ice rink, Mosher says, and detect each time a player passes through a given beam, and thus how quickly he is moving in any specific direction. NEXT Testing's founders also wanted the testing system to provide anonymity, so that each player's performance could be measured without those viewing the test results knowing that individual's name. This ensured that no human-based biases could occur if coaches and others making team selections knew the names of the competing teens. To accomplish this goal, they sought an automated method of collecting an ID for each player without including his name on the results.

When a player prepares to take a test—such as the one offered at the North Bay Battalion Development Weekend at Memorial Gardens, in North Bay—he provides his name and other identifying information, such as the club for which he plays. The teen receives a wristband containing an embedded low-frequency (LF) 134 kHz RFID tag from Texas Instruments. The reusable wristband's ID number is linked to that player's name in the NEXT Testing software, and his name is not viewed again until the highest performing players are selected for the team.

In general, the NEXT Testing service begins by having players watch a video describing the 14 tests they will undergo on the ice. Then, one at a time, each player proceeds to a Texas Instruments reader, mounted at a gate to the rink, and taps his wristband near it. The reader captures the bracelet's ID and forwards that information to the computer running the NEXT Testing software. The player then awaits a green light above the gate, opens the gate and skates onto the rink. NEXT Testing personnel instruct him through the 14 tests, and the IR sensors capture the speed and accuracy at which he skates, by determining how fast and how accurately he reached the proper spot on the rink. Those results are paired with the RFID tag in his wristband.

Once Team NOHA's coaches finished reviewing all of the test results during the North Bay Battalion Development Weekend, they selected the highest performers. The software linked the RFID numbers to the names of those players, who could then be informed of their status.

Mosher says that prior to being acquired by HockeyTech, NEXT Testing considered using bar-code scans as the identifying function of the solution, rather than radio frequency identification. However, he adds, RFID was deemed more reliable and easier to read, and the wristbands could be reused. Sometime after being acquired by HockeyTech in 2013, NEXT Testing ceased offering its testing service for approximately one year. However, once NOHA gives its approval, Mosher expects the testing service will be used by hundreds of minor midget players. The NOHA-affiliated teams are organized annually, and testing takes place once each year. For performance evaluation, a player could use the technology to measure his reaction times during practice sessions, and he and his coaches could review the results and compare them against previous findings, or determine areas in which he is strongest or weakest.

The testing information will not only be used by NOHA. NHL teams, for instance, can request the testing results from HockeyTech, and review a particular team member's results throughout the course of his three years with Team NOHA.

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