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Author's profile photo Mark Lehew

6 Challenges to the Digital Athlete: Why Organizations are Slow to Adopt New Technologies

From wearables collecting athlete performance data to mobile apps for athlete engagement, the sports industry has officially gone digital. Coaches, athletes, trainers and managers are supplementing observations and gut feelings with real-time player performance data. The “Sports Analytics Market Shares, Strategies, and Forecasts, Worldwide, 2015 to 2021” research report predicts the sports analytics market will grow from $125 million to $4.7 billion by 2021. IDC estimates that wearable device shipments will reach 173.4 million units by 2019, up by 500 percent in just five years. Despite these rapid advancements, going digital isn’t without challenges. Understanding these challenges is key to identify opportunities for removing friction and expediting digital sports technology adoption.

6 Challenges to the Sports Digital Revolution: What’s Working, What Isn’t

Real-time sports analytics are a key competitive differentiator for amateur and professional teams alike. So why are athletic organizations reluctant to embrace the digital athlete? Here’s why:

1. Cultural change moves slowly in sports.
In 2015, there were
seven mid-season college football coaching vacancies, an unusual departure from the traditional end of season hiring/firings. This reflects a broader trend within college sports towards aggressive performance-based hiring and firing, echoing professional football and basketball.

With jobs on the line throughout the season, many trainers, coaches and athletic directors are reluctant to take any unnecessary risk that could backfire and jeopardize their jobs. They follow a “wait and see” approach and only adopt new technology once an innovation is proven. By then, however, any competitive advantage in the technology is lost. The result: coaches are left struggling to simply keep up. Finding a way to break through this cultural resistance to change is essential to faster technology adoption.

2. Too many solutions, insufficient compatibility.
The sheer number of redundant technologies and point solutions generating information in multiple formats impacts data quality. Valuable time is wasted cleaning and making sense of raw data before it can be used. This creates a usage bottleneck that slows adoption.

3. Difficulty mining data for insights.
Data volume, velocity, and variety are exploding, making it increasingly difficult to identify insights from a sea of data. This problem is compounded when a question is asked that requires data from multiple sources to be combined and analyzed. Currently, athletic performance data cannot be quickly converted from its raw form to visual insights that are intuitively understood and easily manipulated by non-technical users.

4. Siloed data further impedes data insights.
New data collection technologies are hitting the market at a rapid rate. As these devices go mainstream, they provide a wealth of data on every individual athlete. However, this information is unique to each device and stored independently. The resulting siloed data not only makes it more difficult for sports teams to quickly analyze large blocks of data, but also impedes overall wearable adoption and usage. Holistic simplification is essential to getting all stakeholders (managers and coaches, front office, analysts, athletes and teams, medical, player development/academy, fitness training, and scouting) on the same data playing field.

5. Time is the enemy.
Trainers and coaches already work on a time crunch between training sessions and games. Manually manipulating so much siloed data is simply beyond the average athletic organization’s bandwidth. Without a time-efficient solution, it is simply too hard to identify the valuable insights in this sea of data and then translate these insights into actionable improvements for a competitive advantage.

6. Cyber security risks multiply.
Cyber security risks increase when data becomes a competitive weapon.
The first known case of corporate espionage in sports occurred in 2015 when an employee of the St. Louis Cardinals made five unauthorized intrusions into the Houston Astros players’ databases. The FBI and Justice Department accused the Cardinals front-office staff of hacking into the Astros database in order to steal closely guarded information about players. The Astros sustained a previous attack in 2014, when details about trade negotiations were posted anonymously online. Fears over the security of athletic performance data led Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow to tell the press that he now uses “pencil and paper” rather than storing secure data on servers. A combination of robust, secure technology and stringent data security polices and procedures are critical to overcoming these very real cyber security risks fears.

Next Steps: How Athletic Organizations Are Moving Beyond Digital Adoption Challenges

Despite these challenges, athletic organizations are embracing the digital world. They’re re-imagining how the 21st century digital athlete can give their organizations a competitive edge. Continued innovation is reducing adoption friction, eliminating siloed data problems, and turning data insights into actionable change. In the next decade, the connected athlete will become commonplace from the professional level down through amateur and youth sports. Lifestyle technologies in the areas of mobile and wearables will converge with sports through affordable, non-intrusive data collection devices, improved connectivity, and mobile apps.

Innovative uses of athletic data will give organizations a competitive edge in the areas of global scouting, injury prevention, training, development, game performance, and roster management. A holistic and unified real-time view of the individual athlete and team will be delivered on any device through simplified role-based dashboards across all data sources. Mobility will be the prime channel for engagement and action. Insight will be available anywhere, on any device, and at any time to deliver value. 

Is your athletic organization ready?

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