The K-12 athletic market is as fragmented as its loyalties. You can drive five miles from Cougar Country and suddenly find yourself in the Cardinal Coop. And the people who cheer for these creatures don’t often care about what’s happening down the road (unless, of course, the playoffs are looming).
Within these walled gardens, the sports technology being used isn’t anything special. The average high school can’t come close to affording the athletic technological tools being used at the college and professional levels. Yet the way these technological tools can be combined to connect a community through youth sports is inspiring.
Whether your daughter is the star of her middle school soccer team or you have no idea if the local high school supports the Wildcats or the Hurricanes, the way athletic technology will impact the fabric of our local communities in 2016 will be something worth watching.
Here are six ways that’s going to happen:
Statistics and big data are huge in pro sports, and the way they’re used in baseball is already trickling down to the high school level. Tools like GameChanger are making analytics more accessible to coaches and giving them a competitive edge.
Knowing a player has hit 21 home runs off left-handed pitchers in the ninth inning helps coaches determine the best times to play that individual to win more games.
In the past, high school coaches recorded video of practices and games from the stands or a press box with a single camera. But the explosion of cheap drone technology will bring the use we’re seeing in the pros to the K-12 scene.
Now coaches will get the same vantage point many people enjoy while playing “Madden NFL.” While there are laws limiting their use for professional practice sessions, there’s currently no federal regulation at the high school level.
3. Wearable Technology
Wearable tech will play a big role in analyzing the performance of athletes down to the microsecond. Shirts that measure things like how fast a player runs will help determine a player’s potential as an athlete. Wearable tech will also provide instant feedback. Golf shirts or accessories will ping when the wearer’s form is bad, or a shirt will be stiffer in particular areas based on an individual’s swing.
Technology, apps, and wearables will also help improve reaction times. Even a small decrease in reaction time can make players safer. Devices like the Linx IAS can help coaches and athletes monitor and prevent brain injuries. That’s why Juniper Research is predicting that by 2018, the wearable device market will be a $19 billion industry.
4. Narrative Science
Narrative Science is a company that founded the ability for computers to analyze data, extract and organize important information and insights, and create complex articles in plainspoken English. While nothing will ever replace quality journalism covering unique topics like players, sport culture, and traditions, Narrative Science will allow more sports to be covered quickly and extend the reach for all sports.
People will be able to find information about whatever sports they’re interested in, reported in a way that isn’t just a box score. This development in apps like GameChanger is currently in beta, but soon coaches will be able to produce AP Style-type articles about a game with the click of a button.
5. Virtual Reality
Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear VR, and Eon Sports’ SIDEKIQ are proof that the technology for high-quality virtual reality is available and affordable enough for mass consumption. Right now, VR is being treated as a hobby in the K-12 sports space, but with Facebook’s purchase of Oculus in 2014, it might be taken more seriously as a tool in the near future.
VR is already being used in recruitment efforts for Iowa State football. At their Virtual Reality Applications Center, recruits can experience what it would be like to play for the Cyclones in a virtual Jack Trice Stadium. When players of any age get “experiences” like this, it makes them want the real thing even more.
6. Streamlined Information
Although it’s surprising, to learn what games are being played at many high schools, you still need you to call the athletics office and listen to a voicemail message detailing that day’s sports schedule. Other schools have sports schedules online, but as PDFs that requires a download.
Several companies have been working in this athletic space, including Varsity News Network, BigTeams, 8to18, and in the club sports arena, Sport Ngin. They are working toward simply giving parents, fans, and athletes one place online to go for information. This next year, we’ll start to see that information not just live on websites, but also delivered to the right person at the right time, similar to how ESPN’s Sportscaster app delivers final scores to subscribers (and to how Facebook curates a specialized newsfeed depending on who’s logging in).
As these tools become increasingly accessible, the need for complex communications throughout a community and the common interest of athletics will drive people to maximize their resources. The K-12 sports scene may not be the tech innovation focal point of the country, but you still might see some amazing ideas coming out of it in 2016.