At the 2004 Athens Olympics, Usain Bolt, a scrawny 17-year old back then, failed to make a mark at the men’s 200 meters event. In fact, he got eliminated at the semi-final stage, a loss which was attributed to his poor form and a lingering leg injury. What’s more, Bolt was not even considered for the celebrated 100 meters event given his unusual height for a runner. But, four years down the line, at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Bolt, now in his 20s, managed to do the impossible. The Jamaican not only won the gold in the 100 and 200-meter segments but also set new world records for both the events. His iconic 100-meter sprint in 9.68 seconds made him an overnight sensation, and the video has been watched or referenced to millions of times. From there, Bolt went on to dominate the athletics sphere for the next decade, and even besting his own record and setting a new benchmark of 9.58 seconds. So how did someone who was deemed unfit for the sport become the showstopper? While genetics, discipline, and perseverance did play a part, the critical role played by data cannot be ignored. Analytics of Bolt’s stature and form helped improve his step rate, master the optimal step length, and eliminate the path deviation on the track. Likewise, physiological inputs from his training did help with injury management and energy conservation. Individually, these metrics may seem inconsequential, but together they helped him optimize his performance and brush off nano-seconds from his competitive timing.
Race For Data In the 21st-century, societies and economies are undergoing the Industrial Revolution 4.0, and practices that emphasize on decentralization and automation are given preference. Thus, the collection and management of data are gaining prominence, leading to some experts terming it as a “resource more valuable than oil.” This is also the reason why this century is aptly called the Information Age. The immediate ramifications of data can be seen in how we conduct our everyday lives, right from measuring one’s social impact to dining at a particular restaurant to preferring a particular route for commuting. In industries, data is helping corporations save billions by streamlining processes, enhancing productivity, and driving innovation. The $488.5 billion global sports industry is not a stranger to this trend. Data is helping teams win championships and is allowing audiences to engage with their favorite sport or players more intimately. Moreover, it is enabling participants (administrators, coaches, players, and others) to uncover key insights into their performance and develop scalable regiments that multiply their chances of success. A famous example of adopting a data-heavy approach is visible in the 2002 dream-run season enjoyed by Oakland Athletics. Led by manager Billy Beane, this American baseball team was tasked with putting together a competitive team on a shoestring budget of $40 million. In comparison, their competitors were shelling out more than $100 million. However, by developing a complex algorithm to evaluate player performance, Oakland Athletics fielded a team that enjoyed a record-breaking 20-game win streak. Billy Beane’s exploits have been documented in the 2003 book, Moneyball, which was later adapted into an Academy Awards nominated film by the same name. Oakland Athletics’ success did not go unnoticed and other sports also adopted this route. In fact, the English Premier League club, Liverpool, used a similar methodology to pick the manager and players that would eventually help them win the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League title. Today, with technology assisting data collection through different devices and sensors, it is possible to analyze sports at a microscopic level. Thus, it is able to generate accurate assessment models that have been derived from a cocktail of data variables that range from hemoglobin concentration in the blood to the lean body mass index. The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) famously uses data to effectively manage and monitor the different athletes spread across the nation. The process of analyzing data began in 2013 and prior to the 2016 Rio Olympics, the Institute speculated that the national contingent would pocket six to seven gold medals. As predicted, the team returned from the mega event a few weeks later with eight gold medals! Their scientific approach to the Olympics helped them predict player injuries in advance and save upto 20% more in time spent training. As data expands its footprint in sports, it has led to the emergence of a niche industry and employment opportunities. It is uncommon to find sports organizations invest in mathematics majors or data scientists with the aim of optimizing operations. Alternatively, there is a significant rise in SaaS-based offerings that provide athlete management systems that help teams function efficiently.
Unleveled Playing Field At a time when vast amounts of information need to be processed quickly, the Athlete Management System (AMS) proves indispensable for any coach or player. Through the dashboard, one can view curated charts and key metrics instantly. This software has been optimized to collate data directly from sensors and track every action executed by the sportsperson.
However, contemporary AMS platforms suffer from the following shortcomings:
Expensive: While large organizations are able to afford to access these cutting-edge software, medium and small-sized organizations may face budget constraints. This leaves them at a disadvantaged position.
Non-customizable: Most AMS service providers offer a one-size-fits-all prototype. This makes it impossible for sports teams to customize the software to fit their requirements. Additionally, they are left with features and functions that they do not require and incur extra costs.
Outdated Tech Stack: While cloud computing is quickly becoming the standard, most of the existing AMS platforms are built using outdated technology. This not only hampers performance but also limits the growth of the platform.
Not Scalable: Most AMS are deployed on-prem and scalability is a big issue. The scaling up will take time and will incur a lot of expenses, making it hard for institutes to scale up, based on the growth of the number of athletes training under them.
No Interoperability: Most of the Present AMS solutions are not future-proof. Most platforms do not have the ability to accommodate emerging technologies such as blockchain, Internet-of-Things, and artificial intelligence.
When viewed from an Indian context, the above problems get amplified. In the country, AMS platforms are not widely used because of their hefty price point and most coaches/players rely on manual paperwork to track their progress. Moreover, these technologies are built with a western audience in mind and hence, are not compatible with the physiologies of Indian athletes. Lack of customizations and variable tracking limit the scope of its applications.
Forging A New Tangent Inspired by the absence of an AMS tailored for the domestic landscape, We — Murugesh and Neelkant, have set out to create one. We categorically identified the problems emanating from existing platforms and we are actively developing a product that offers a holistic response. ATIUM, the AMS built specifically for Indian Athletes, derives its name from the god metal in the Mistborn series. According to the lore, on heating the metal, the user is granted temporary foresight, and on consumption, it increases the user’s longevity. Coincidentally, these two properties are what we want to emulate into the software.
When we were working, we found that most domestic sports institutes and organizations face a data problem. By this, it means that the infrastructure or practice of record-keeping was absent. Even if pockets of data existed here and there, it was not enough, as these were not digitized. Hence, we got busy with collecting, structuring and digitizing the data, thereby solving a missing link in Indian sport.
We also discovered that our endeavor had a double effect — 1) Our efforts would benefit the Indian sports community immensely and 2) there was a great business opportunity waiting to happen.
ATIUM is positioned as a one-stop-shop for athletes and organizations. It will not only help track performance but also enable administrators to manage and automate a variety of operations seamlessly. For example, an interactive calendar feature will allow coaches and players to plan out their schedules in advance. It will also assist in coordinating activities between multiple participants efficiently. Likewise, a messaging component will connect different parties better and improve communication.
However, the main attraction for sportspersons and administrators will be the ease of customization. ATIUM will empower organizations and teams to customize their experience. One has the power to choose the features they require and discard the rest. For instance, a cricket team’s requirement will vastly differ from that of a football team. Similarly, team sports focus on different synergies when compared to individual sports. This ability to personalize the experience will not only optimize output but also help in cutting costs.
Another highlight and differentiating factor of ATIUM is, unlike many other AMS tools in the market, it doesn’t consider male and female athletes alike. When we interacted with the female athletes from a sports academy, we came to know that the AMS is not tailored to women’s physiology, meaning there is no tracking of menses which gauges the health and fitness of females. ATIUM assists the coach to analyze data related to menstrual cycle in addition to the sleep patterns, calories burnt, heart rate variability, etc., This helps coaches in making changes to the training accordingly, thereby making the training effective.
We have already established relationships with a number of recognized sports organizations like Inspire Institute of Sports (IIS), Sports Authority of India (SAI), Padukone - Dravid Centre for Sports Excellence (CSE), and more. These associations help us refine our AMS platform as we gain better insights and inputs on which features are a priority and which can be postponed. As far as timelines go, we are planning to deliver our first set of application release towards the latter half of February 2020.
In Conclusion In a technology-driven world, one cannot sideline the role played by data and sports is no exception. Athletes can benefit from a detailed analysis of their fitness and performance, thus allowing them to take their game to the next level. However, a good management software is required, one that is affordable, user-friendly, scalable, and, most importantly, customizable. ATIUM is built with these targets in mind. They want to create a comprehensive solution that will not only help document the Indian sports ecosystem but also empower the participants to usher in a new era.