Watching professional sports is a classic pastime—most of us love to gather together and enjoy ourselves while united behind our favorite teams. Unfortunately, there is a major problem with the current state of sports worldwide: player injuries. Obviously, this is an issue for the players themselves, but it’s a problem for the industry as well: Fast Company reports that Major League Baseball spent $665 million in 2013 on the salaries of injured players and their replacements, while the NBA lost $358 million during that same timeframe. Adam Hewitt of Peak Performance Project (P3) calls it “the largest market inefficiency in pro sports.” The players’ outlook is grim: as far back as 1990, a study found that two-thirds of retired NFL players suffered from permanent sports-related injuries. Things haven’t changed much as 87 of 91 former NFL players’ brains studied showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is a degenerative disease that is associated with repetitive brain trauma.
Solving this problem is not simple, but there are some glimmers of hope, thanks to new wearable technology that can track the players’ well-being during a game and help predict and prevent player injuries. Wearables are being used to track everything from body chemistry and heart rates to collect data for analysis. This is helpful for coaches who want to improve their team’s overall performance, but the data can also potentially be used to help reduce player injuries.
Kitman Labs was built on the premise that injuries are not random, but could instead be predicted using data collected by wearables. Wired quotes Stephen Smith, CEO of Kitman Labs: “Essentially we’ve built the operating systems for sports.” They noticed that some teams were losing much more money than others, and hypothesized that real-time data might be able to give coaches insights on which players should be switched out during the game to avoid injury.
Kitman Labs did encounter a few obstacles in this process: getting teams to start collecting data, and how to present it to the coaches to prevent the issue of information overload.