- Published on 31 October 2019
Tackling Tech: Data Drives Analytics to Field Safer, Smarter Athletes
"TBT" (Throwback Tuesday) - This article was originally published July 6, 2017
It's a good thing for athletes from youth sports to the college level game that Jesse Harper decided against becoming a nutritionist at an elderly care facility after graduating from the University of Connecticut with a degree in nutritional biochemistry.
The football player opted instead to take on health in sports and now directs as CEO a fast-emerging sports tech company - aptly named Athlete Intelligence - which helps coaches and others measure understand impacts and player performance on a per-team or- player basis.
The data its platform collects in real-time can be used by coaches to correct potentially harmful blocking and tackling that youthful players are executing incorrectly. Biometrics from its advanced player mouth guard, "shockbox" and a special headband help coaches spot situations such as fatigue and take corrective action with the player, drills, practices and much more.
The former player and past football coach (who has also trained Olympic athletes) is beyond concerned about the future of contact football given the talk of parents keeping their kids away from football for fear of head injuries.
"It's truly heartbreaking to see and hear of kids be redirected away football at low levels," admitted Harper, whose Seattle-based sports tech firm is roughly five years old. "People are scared. But we are addressing player safety and concussions with our system to identify coachable moments and address fears."
For example, the AI platform could show that offensive linemen are taking hits high on their helmets, explains Harper. "This indicates they are not getting their heads up when the ball is snapped. That tells me that we need to work on neck strength and that raising their heads needs to be incorporated into practices and game planning by coaches who can use game video to address and educate players on the situation and provide corrective action."
It may be surprising that the NFL has not yet embraced the company's products. But that's no worry to Harper, whose firm is faring well selling at the larger college and high school levels with continued success. For now, it's a numbers game with the NFL comprised of 32 teams, while college football has some 700 teams, high school has 16,000 teams and youth football has over 30,000 teams.
Creating Coachable Moments
The sports tech pioneer uses the phrase "coachable moments" in part to describe the analytics driven opportunities to coach up players. This is how the company president and CEO describes them:
"Coachable moments are the actionable insights that we capture from the data and video collected. We can identify trends and improper technique and bring it to the coach's attention so that they can work with the players during practice to modify their behavior," Harper explained.
Drawing from the example above he added: "We can identify things such as offensive linemen that are deconditioned and dropping their head during the 4th quarter and exposing themselves to greater head as well as injury running backs that are hitting the hole improperly and leading with their head, etc."