Kitman Labs’ Profiler Helps Keep Athletes on the Field

Sports analytics has moved on from the days when an ambitious amateur could fire up Excel or a relational database and make earth-shattering discoveries. Modern front offices must incorporate not only on-field performance but also medical histories, training results, biomechanics data, and a host of other sources into their decision making. To help teams better manage and access that mountain of data, Dublin-based Kitman Labs has developed the Profiler, a system that combines disparate data sources into analytics describing player health and injury risk.

Chief product officer Stephen Smith described Kitman Labs’ offering as “the operating system for sports teams.” The strength of the system is in its ability to combine data from multiple areas — including medical, biomechanical, and on-field sources — to produce more holistic analytics that can better inform team decision making regardingl athlete training and injury prevention. Smith said he was first inspired to create the system while working as an athletic trainer for Leinster, an Irish rugby team.

“One of the biggest challenges I had as a practitioner was that all the fitness data was held in one area, all the medical data was held in one area, and all the performance analytics were held in another area,” Smith said. “That just made it very hard to understand what any of the information actually meant.”

An example of the power of Profiler is demonstrated through a software application that allows users to collect markerless, three-dimensional biomechanical data from an off-the-shelf Microsoft Kinect. The software can calculate select joint angles from an athlete a few feet away — even during rapid dynamic movements, such as running, kicking, or throwing a pitch. And although Smith insisted that the Kinect software was “probably five percent of what we actually do,” he was enthusiastic about its ability to make motion-capture based analysis more accessible.

“Biomechanical information that you would garner in a normal professional sports environment would take you hours to actually get because the downtime is huge, and the cost of that is pretty difficult, and you just can’t access that day to day because it takes too long,” Smith said. “The software that we’ve created jumps professional sports teams into the next generation of real-time technology.”

When interviewed, Smith refused to name the specific organizations that have partnered with his companies.

“We definitely don’t like to speak about our clients because a lot of the information we’re housing, as you can imagine, is very sensitive data on very high-profile athletes,” he said.

But some of his clients have been less tight-lipped about their relationship. In March, The Los Angeles Dodgers announced that they would be partnering with Kitman Labs in their farm system, declaring themselves “the first American sports team” to sign with the company. Across the pond, Kitman Labs works with British Premier League squad Everton, along with a number of Irish rugby teams. Other organizations, including the San Francisco Giants, have also tested this system.

When Kitman Labs signs a new client, the two first collaborate to determine which data and which metrics are most important to the organization, and what sources of information the organization already collects. Kitman’s sports scientists then work with the coaches and training staff to demonstrate how to use the system and understand the analytics the system produces.

“We have a very experienced team of sport scientists who all understand the individual nature of each sporting discipline that we work with, and the uniqueness of each club, team, and athlete,” Smith said. “Those sports scientists will actually be on the ground with teams for a number of days actually helping them to get up to speed.”

Smith says he understands that his company offers an appealing solution to clubs looking to maximize the return on their sizable investments in player salaries, not to mention strength and conditioning, coaching, and other aspects.

“I presume that [general managers] want tools to ensure that they can get the best value from their athletes,” Smith said. “I think the clubs just love the idea of being able to try and maximize on that by being sure they can keep the athletes on the field.”

But the growth of biomechanics data has led to rumblings in some quarters. Some have expressed concerns that medical data which suggests an injury risk could be used against athletes during negotiations. (An example can be seen in the controversy surrounding the Houston Astros’ dealings with top overall pick Brady Aiken last summer.) Despite this, Smith said he hasn’t seen any pushback from athletes on teams using this product, and insists that the system was designed primarily with athlete wellbeing in mind.

“One of the largest driving forces for us in doing this is that we want to protect athlete welfare, we want to improve the standard of care that is given to athletes worldwide,” Smith said. “It’s there purely for the team to use that information to empower their decision making, and that way they can ensure the athlete makes it onto the field in the best possible shape.”

Kitman Labs was born out of Smith’s postgraduate research into injury risk factors, as well as his professional experience as an athletic trainer. The company was founded in October 2012, with its first product offering coming online in June 2013. By early 2014, Kitman Labs had signed their first partnerships with soccer and rugby teams, and were looking to expand into the American market.

“We kind of expected that the market over here would be pretty far ahead of what was going on in Europe,” Smith said. “But when we came over, we realized that it didn’t look like there was anybody else trying to do something like what we were doing.”

The company opened its first American office in Menlo Park, California, in September 2014. Since the MLB season was just wrapping up, Kitman Labs initially focused on expanding into baseball to coincide with teams’ buying cycles. Kitman Labs is now looking to expand into other sports, developing new applications in both professional and collegiate sports leagues.

“We’ve had early success with baseball in the U.S., but we’re actively working with NBA teams, NFL teams, and we’re actually now branching into the NHL as well,” Jeff Eckenhoff, a member of the Business Development team, said. “We’re pretty sport agnostic.”

And with the expansion into new sports comes an expansion of staff, as Kitman Labs looks to add sports scientists and engineers that can help them adapt their solutions for new clients. Smith said his company is actively looking to fill eight vacancies.

“We need industry experts from basketball, football, and baseball to come and be part our team, and to help us solve the largest problems for each of these sports so that we can truly help these teams to uncover the sources of injuries,” Smith said.

Still, Smith insisted that his company’s expansion would not come at the expense of Kitman’s current offerings.

“We don’t want to be a company that walks into a market and grabs a huge collection of customers and then walks away with their checks in our back pocket,” Smith said. “We want to change the face of sports science and sports medicine and we’re going to do that by incredible focus and by being extremely diligent.”

Bryan Cole is a contributor to TechGraphs and a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @Doctor_Bryan.

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