The Design and Development of a Novel Sports Agility Tester

Author: Reuben Smith

Smith, Reuben, 2019 The Design and Development of a Novel Sports Agility Tester, Flinders University, College of Science and Engineering

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Performance testing protocols are a widely accepted way of evaluating the ability and skills athletes possess in sports clubs, sports science and physiology. Performance testing allows monitoring of progressive improvement, assistance in talent identification processes, and determination of positional roles and responsibilities. Agility has become an increasingly important attribute to assess among athletes by coaches, trainers, physical educators and conditioning specialists. Currently implemented agility tests such as the Illinois agility, AFL agility, 5-0-5, T-test, Pro-agility and 3-cone drill often involve an athlete running around a series of objects in a similar manner for each effort, demonstrating pre-planned and repetitive behaviour with no real thought when undertaking the test. Therefore, a major problem with these currently implemented “agility tests” is that they lack any perceptual and decision-making attributes which would be required during in-game performance. They do not truly represent all components of agility; testing only the physical attributes. Thus, the design and development of a novel system capable of testing all components of athlete agility was proposed.

An engineering design process consisting of problem definition, conceptual design, solution concept, design embodiment and detail design was undertaken. In addition to significant research and development, the iterative process involved integrating mechanical, electrical and software engineering with rapid prototyping technologies to construct a proof-of-concept prototype which was built from the ground up. The system was developed to contain several devices, including one master component capable of controlling multiple slave devices through wireless communication. Microcontrollers were used to process various computations and to control a variety of peripheral hardware that made up the core of the electronics. Custom 3D printed enclosures were designed and developed, which encompassed the electronic components.

A near fully functional prototype system was developed, which had the capacity to test an athlete’s agility, incorporating both perceptual and decision-making factors as well as the physical attributes of the construct. The system, for the first time, boasted the capability of self-measuring the components geometric layout for test replication and standardisation. The system presented a series of random stimuli (acting as a reactive component) dispersed across a testing zone that the athlete must deactivate, thereby activating another component successively. Additionally, sport specific apparatus (such as an AFL football, netball or basketball) could be incorporated to add a sport specific ball-handling element to the test. The time taken to remove the individual sport specific apparatus from each marker in the test was recorded by the system and the results were sent directly to a laptop or smartphone. The test was developed so that an athlete would be unable to anticipate the marker activation sequence using carefully coded algorithms, maintaining the perceptual and decision-making factors associated with agility.

At the time of submission of the thesis, a bug in the program meant that the test time from the final marker could not be processed and would cause the system to freeze. Due to significant time constraints, this problem was unable to be rectified before submission of this thesis. Although full functionality was not able to be implemented, the proposed agility testing system was still able to achieve 92.3% of first order specifications and a total of 86.3% of both first (essential) and second (desirable) order specifications. As a result, the proof-of-concept system was still deemed a success. By employing a logical and systematic engineering design process, disciplines of mechanical, electrical and software engineering were fused to design and develop an innovative and tangible prototype. It is anticipated that this novel system will pave the way for the advancement of athlete performance testing to more closely represent athletic and game demands within performance testing batteries and training programs.

Keywords: Athlete Performance Testing, Sports, Agility, Perceptual and Decision Making, Stimulus, Novel Invention, Design, Development, Prototyping, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Software Engineering, Engineering, 3D-printing, Agility Test Standardisation, Training, AFL, Australian Rules Football, Netball, Rugby, Basketball

Subject: Engineering thesis

Thesis type: Masters
Completed: 2019
School: College of Science and Engineering
Supervisor: Dr. David Hobbs