NBA Teams Turning to Technology for Competitive Advantage
It is no secret that sports and technology have become increasingly intertwined, as many teams have centered their roster-building concepts on analytics. Every team in the NBA uses some kind of advanced data in their decision making to gain an edge over their opposition.
The latest technology being explored? SyncThink.
SyncThink is a Silicon Valley company that uses an eye-tracking technology to evaluate player fatigue and injury risk. Founded in 2008, SyncThink was funded by the American Department of Defense with the aim of assessing soldiers’ brain health through the analysis of eye movement.
On the athletic side, the company first partnered with the University of Iowa and the University of Texas, before expanding throughout the NCAA and becoming the primary technology used to concussions and player fatigue.
As of now, there are three NBA teams who use SyncThink’s technology – the Golden State Warriors, Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards – all seeking to turn such information into on-court success. SyncThink’s CEO, Laura Yeceis expects that, “as they work with the technology more, over a longer course of time, they will be able to learn and track how the results correlate with the player’s performance so they will be able to more accurately pinpoint what to look for and how to remedy fatigue moving forward.”
In short, the technology assesses the brain’s predictive capabilities, explains Yeceis. “When we give you the stimulus, you’re following the light in a circle and we track how quickly, how accurately you’re able to follow that stimulus…different brain health conditions have different types of error which we pick up on in the eye tracking.”
Once a team becomes familiar with the data, they can take steps to help players return to their appropriate levels of alertness and perception. It may be that a player’s sleep schedule needs to change or that a player is overworked and needs a decrease in minutes, or even a change in diet that can then be addressed by trainers and nutritionists.
The Warriors were the first team to implement the technology, perhaps unsurprisingly due to their vicinity to Silicon Valley and front office connections.
It was introduced to their assistant GM Kirk Lacob who was immediately intrigued. The team initially used to technology to evaluate players who suffered blows to the head. “The device succeeded in detecting an impairment before concussion symptoms arrived,” he said.
Soon after, the Warriors medical team began using the technology to test for player fatigue as well. Lacob said that every 20 games or so, they will check players for signs of accumulated fatigue that might warrant additional rest. “This helps us understand what we need to do to reduce stress and fatigue on players because our ultimate goal is to have everyone fresh for the playoffs.”
As they have won three of the last four championships, teams are eager to close the gap between themselves and the Warriors, which explains the other two teams getting involved.
How exactly the Warriors, Hawks and Wizards collect and utilize the SyncThink data is ultimately up to them. The technology is a tool; they choose how to implement it. Nevertheless, this is just the latest example of the world of technology intersecting with sports.
With player safety and player performance at the forefront, do not expect this trend to stop anytime soon. At the end of the day, if there is even a marginal edge to be had, why not pursue it?