In the sporting arena, one-percent performance gains determine whether elite competitors taste victory or defeat—and whether junior athletes make the team or face rejection. Supported by IBM, Zybek Sports is analyzing over 100,000 athletes a year, and delivering targeted action plans to help them help train smarter and get ahead of the competition.
Sporting success can depend on shaving milliseconds off a dash time, or tiny adjustments in technique. How could Zybek Sports help athletes make the marginal gains to lift their chances of victory?
Zybek Sports uses analytics and database technology from IBM to unlock deep insights from test data, giving athletes feedback into strengths and weaknesses, and recommendations to boost performance.
- Optimizes athletes’ performance by uncovering deep insights into areas for improvement
- Enables analysis of thousands of athletes daily with robust, scalable technology
- Helps junior athletes achieve goals thanks to smarter training programs
Business Challenge Story
Helping athletes train smarter
In professional sports, the smallest margins can have an outsized impact, making the difference between the euphoria of victory and the disappointment of defeat. In recent years, the rise of data analytics has transformed everything from training programs and player recruitment to tactics and nutrition—all in search of the one-percent gains that provide the crucial advantage over competitors on the day.
“Thanks to IBM, we’re enabling more athletes than ever before to reach peak performance at the right time.”
—Mike Weinstein, CEO, and Founder, Zybek Sports
At the forefront of this trend is Zybek Sports, a leading provider of precision measuring and athletic training equipment. Mike Weinstein, Founder, and CEO of Zybek Sports, begins: “A few years ago, the U.S. Olympic Training Center at Colorado Springs approached me with a request for a more accurate measure for the vertical jump, followed by a new way to measure sprint times.
“In response, we developed a fully automated timing system that has since been adopted by many professional sporting organizations across the U.S. For example, it’s now used at the annual NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, where it plays a central role in identifying the very best athletes in the run-up to the NFL Player Draft.”
As leading youth teams and organizations continued to adopt its testing equipment, Zybek Sports saw an opportunity to dig deeper into performance data and build targeted action plans to help athletes train smarter.
“We wanted to go beyond an athlete’s 40-yard dash time or their vertical jump score, and offer a more granular breakdown of their strengths and weaknesses,” says Mike Weinstein. “We recognized that with an in-depth analysis, we could pinpoint areas to focus on and develop a long-term roadmap to help optimize performance.”
The Colorado-based company was also determined to offer the same professional-grade precision testing and analysis service to high school and college athletes, helping younger competitors take the next step towards realizing their goals, whatever their preferred sport.
Mike Weinstein explains: “At lower levels, athletes are often just told if they made the team or not—without any constructive feedback from coaches. My daughter, for example, played freshman volleyball in high school but didn’t make the sophomore team. After all that hard work, she was really disappointed to be dropped and soon lost interest in competing. With an objective breakdown of her athletic performance, her coach could have shown her where she needed to improve to help her make the team next time.”
To provide its services to elite and junior athletes across the United States, Zybek Sports knew it needed to significantly rethink its Excel-based analytics and reporting processes. “We regularly test up to 2,000 athletes in a single day, generating huge quantities of data. We started to look for solutions to deliver in-depth analytics capabilities that could scale to meet the demand.”
“Compared to other standardized athletic performance tests, we’re giving athletes much more valuable information into how to boost their performance over the long term.”
—Mike Weinstein, CEO, and Founder, Zybek Sports
Digging deeper into performance data
To generate detailed insights into athletic performance, Zybek Sports chose to implement IBM® Watson Analytics™, along with IBM Cloudant®, to deliver uninterrupted access to performance data.
Mike Weinstein elaborates on the selection process: “Of all the products we looked at, Watson Analytics was by far the standout, providing a rich set of analysis tools, backed by artificial intelligence. We see IBM as a leader in the fields of analytics and AI, which was reassuring for us—we are engineers and product designers, so we look to IBM to help us with the IT side of the equation.
“We love how the IBM Watson brand is presented, too—it’s so human and approachable. We saw Watson winning on the Jeopardy! the game show, and how IBM had made artificial intelligence relevant for ordinary people. We didn’t feel we were buying an intimidating, complex software package but a platform designed to really communicate information to end-users in a simple, comprehensible way.”
Watson Analytics enables Zybek Sports to perform in-depth analysis of performance data at the click of a button. Once a dataset is uploaded, Watson Analytics automatically picks out trends and patterns and can generate visualizations and predictive models in an instant.
Mike Weinstein adds: “With our 40-yard dash times, for example, Watson Analytics allows us to move away from focusing on an athlete’s time, and concentrate on their overall rank across the field and how they can improve it. If we test 500 athletes on the day, we can break down their rank by 10-yard splits. If they are 200th out of 500 after 20 yards, but slip back to 350th position by the end of the dash, then we can show them that they need to work on their endurance and finishing strongly. Or if they are slow off the mark but pick up pace over the course of the dash, we can recommend working on their explosive speed to get a faster start.”
He continues: “The athletes first love to see the breakdown of their results and how they compare to their peers. Next, they want to see what they can do to improve and be the best. From thousands of seemingly unrelated data points, Watson delivers an actionable prescription for every athlete’s improvement.”
Zybek Sports is also using IBM Cloudant database technology to rapidly ingest and store the huge volumes of data generated by testing. The managed database service scales horizontally, allowing Zybek Sports to capture millions of data-points, ready for analytics. As each athlete performs a test, sensors record their time or score, and a coach manning the station simply presses ‘accept’ to send the data to Zybek’s internal server, then on to the Cloudant database.
IBM Cloudant also enables Zybek Sports to provide real-time updates on athletes’ times and scores to spectators and television viewers, as Mike Weinstein notes: “Thousands of parents come to spectate at our high school events. Thanks to IBM Cloudant, we can keep them informed about how each athlete is performing.”
Mike Weinstein continues: “Working with IBM has been a great experience, and one we hope to continue well into the future. We are part of the IBM Global Entrepreneur Program, and take full advantage of the support resources it entitles us to, especially when we need some help with our database landscape. The IBM team is a trusted partner, and we plan to continue to work side-by-side with them.
“What’s more, we can show other companies how to use Watson Analytics. It’s a solution you can sum up in a few words when networking. On one occasion, I spoke to a contact from a company that carries out large-scale physical screenings of truck drivers, and she instantly recognized the huge potential of Watson Analytics in her business. It’s such a great technology, and we’re excited to spread the word about its capabilities.”
Lifting athletic performance to the next level
Supported by IBM, Zybek Sports is providing data-driven reports to athletes from tens of thousands of professional organizations, high schools, and colleges across the United States, helping them to optimize their performance.
Mike Weinstein comments: “We can show athletes an in-depth breakdown of their strengths and weaknesses across events such as the 40-yard dash, shuttle run, vertical jump and agility tests. With Watson Analytics, we can give them insights into how they compare on a national level, and, in the case of college or high school athletes, how they measure up to the professionals.
“Other athletic performance tests simply calculate a score for each event. We’re giving athletes much more valuable information about how to boost their performance over the long term. We’re even working on analyses to determine whether professional sportsmen are overtraining or undertraining—helping them avoid plateauing and guarding against diminishing returns, to ensure they reach peak performance at just the right time.
“And for the younger athletes we monitor, we are guiding them on the most effective action to get one step closer to fulfilling their dreams and emulating their sporting heroes. They don’t have to settle for getting cut from the team anymore—instead, they get actionable insights to help them improve and keep on enjoying sports. It’s so pleasing today to see that athletes who we tested at high-school level are now being picked up in the NFL Draft.”
The company now has the robust, scalable platform needed to support large-scale testing events at junior and senior levels. In the coming year, Zybek Sports will test and provide reports for over 100,000 athletes, including at major events such as the U.S. Army National Combine, in which 600 high school players compete before college scouts.
“Our IBM technology enables us to process thousands of athletes’ results in a single testing day,” says Mike Weinstein. “It also gives us the solid foundation to take our offerings into major new sporting markets, such as softball where we have over 1.2 million female participants in the United States or even soccer where there are over three million youth players.”
Zybek Sports is now aiming to expand its analytics services into medical rehabilitation. The company is developing plans to monitor recovering athletes, to help physiotherapists build smarter treatment and rehab plans and get sports players back to competition as soon as possible.
Mike Weinstein concludes: “Thanks to IBM, we’re enabling more athletes than ever before to reach peak performance at the right time. We’re helping professionals make the smallest of gains that make all the difference on the field or the track and supporting young athletes in their quest to achieve their dreams. We’re already excited about the next step of our journey—and backed by IBM, we’re confident of continuing our success.”
Story credit to IBM Case Studies