SportTechie Feb 24, 2016
This was initially posted on Sports Techie by one of our favorite authors, Lindsey Ann Von Thron
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In Indianapolis over 300 collegiate football players have begun a week-long interview that will have a major impact on realizing their dream to play on Sundays. The best of the best will showcase their skills through a variety of tests that for decades have been used to measure ability and predict performance in the NFL. From the first snap of college football last fall to the Alabama Crimson Tide being crowned National Champions, every analyst on every network has been speculating where these players will go in the NFL Draft in April. Now it’s time for the analysis to turn to player performance in the 40-yard dash, the vertical jump, shuttle run, cone drill, bench press, and broad jump at the NFL Combine and how those results will affect their draft position.
The tests haven’t changed, but the way they are measured changed six years ago when NFL Scouting first used automated measuring equipment from Zybek Sports.
In the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine, Zybek Sports equipment was used as a backup timer to test fully automated timing methodologies. The following year it was used as the official time. This year, for the first time, Zybek Sports will provide a real-time data feed to the NFL Network throughout its coverage of the NFL Scouting Combine. Data will not only include an athlete’s final 40-yard dash time, but also his split at the 10-yard mark. All through automated sensors. All given in real-time.
A decade ago, Michael Weinstein, founder and president of Zybek Sports, began developing a product to better measure the vertical jump at the request of the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. After using the product, they asked for timing systems and from there, the devices gained popularity through word of mouth. What started as a hobby business quickly grew into Zybek Sports and Weinstein has invested more in the state-of-the-art equipment and the data analysis. ‘I started seeing how big the sports industry is and how hungry people are for real data,’ said Weinstein.
The timing equipment is sensor activated, similar to a garage door sensor. There are two red blocks on the start line and the sensor knows when a hand is on the line. Once the athlete lifts his hand, the sensor is no longer blocked and the time starts. There are sensors at the 10-yard and 20-yard marks in addition to the finish line at the 40-yard mark. Each time the athlete runs across those sensors, time is recorded.
The automated timing system offers greater accuracy than manual timing with a stopwatch. Manual times are always faster than a fully automated electronic time because the person running the stopwatch will hit ‘start’ after he or she first sees motion. The Zybek system eliminates the human factors for a more accurate time.
For the NFL Scouting Combine, the more accurate times could mean the difference in draft spots. However, the teams analyzing each player will now have more information about athletic ability thanks to the split times. They’ll be able to analyze whether a player has power right out of the gate or is better at building up speed – and determine what that player needs to work on. Many argue that the 40-yard dash is not indicative of a player’s ability, so this new analysis could change the way the drill is perceived.
Weinstein told me that ‘the real market need is not so much the product, but for data analysis and presenting athletic performance in a way that makes sense to them.’ To that end, Zybek Sports has developed clinical, focused measurements on athleticism. This standardized athletic test for athletes allows coaches to evaluate athleticism fairly. Obviously skills and work ethic still play a huge role, but when athletes around the country are using the same automated system to measure the same tests, coaches know how to interpret those results and look at everyone from an objective athleticism perspective.
In January, over six hundred of the best high school football players showcased their skills in front of collegiate scouts at the U.S. Army National Combine, and each one went through the same set of drills that was measured by Zybek Sports. If the players opted in, they could receive a detailed report that showed their results and how they compared against their peers. They can also see how they compare nationwide and compare themselves as if they were at the NFL Scouting Combine. These reports give a reality check of where the players are, where they hope to be and dream to be as the data can make recommendations about what they need to work on.
Zybek Sports is focused on youth market and high school athletes as the target market with these standardized athletic tests. And they go beyond football. Weinstein talked about some of the tests they are developing for lacrosse, baseball, softball, basketball, and even ultimate frisbee. Each sport requires a different type of athleticism so they have developed tests for agility, motion start, and reaction time to external stimulus. The young athletes can compare themselves to other athletes nationwide, but more importantly they can compete against their own number – giving them a tangible goal to work towards in training.
The automated system will certainly have an impact at the NFL Scouting Combine – not only providing more accurate numbers for the prospects, but also providing better live TV coverage for the data-hungry fans. As the workouts unfolds this week, the youth athletes who have taken Zybek Sports’ tests will be looking to see how they compare to the NFL-hopefuls.
The real impact will be on the youth market. Coaches, parents and the athletes themselves now have a meaningful metric to fairly compare athlete-to-athlete. Nothing will replace skills and work ethic, but an objective athleticism measurement is a step in standardizing athletic recruitment similar to what academic standardized tests do in high school and college admissions.