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10 innovative products that are leaving their mark

Product innovations constantly change the way athletic administrators and coaches operate their programs. The trick is figuring out which new inventions best fit high schools and colleges.

In Coach and Athletic Director’s second annual Innovations Issue, we introduce 10 products that revolutionize or simplify the lives of program leaders. To compile our list of game-changing products, we not only identify innovative gadgets or high-tech training machines. We look out for anything unique or creative that has value to schools, athletic administrators, coaches or athletes.

This year’s group of products ranges from a new-and-improved hand warmer to a smartwatch designed to maximize performance and recovery for elite athletes. Here’s a look at 2016’s top team sports innovations.

Windpact

The sports industry is crowded with helmet sensors that help identify concussive blows. So instead of detecting the hits, Windpact aims to alleviate the damage.

WindpactBacked by CEO Shawn Springs, a former NFL All-Pro cornerback who spent 13 years in the league, Windpact’s helmet technology is described as an airbag for the brain. Upon impact, the Crash Cloud absorbs and disperses energy, contrasting with most helmet technology that absorbs nearly all energy at the impact zone. Windpact’s Crash Cloud then immediately “reflates,” ready for the next hit.

Maurice Kelly, chief innovation officer at Windpact, said the technology is not only effective against the crushing blows that make highlight reels. He believes it also helps to protect athletes during the smaller, sub-concussive hits suffered by linemen.

“It’s dynamic in the sense that if you’re hitting the pad softly, it feels soft,” Kelly said, “but the more violent the impact the product stiffens and becomes equal to its counterparts at those high-velocity impacts.”

Kelly said Windpact was tested by Virginia Tech researchers, receiving some of the “highest scores they have ever seen.” Those findings cannot be published until the product is commercially available.

Windpact is working with helmet manufacturers to get its technology into the market, and Kelly expects that it could be available in baseball helmets by early 2017. He said baseball, football, cycling and lacrosse helmets would be targeted first.

“In my lifetime, we’ll never see the end of concussions,” Kelly said. “The only thing we can do is look at the data we have and mitigate the risks based on that data.”

Learn more at www.windpact.com.

Digital Scoreboards

Schools could pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to equip their football stadium with a video board — or they could turn to Digital Scoreboards.

digital-scoreboardsDigital Scoreboards works with major outdoor advertising companies to acquire the outdated videoboards drivers typically see along highways. After furbishing the boards and upgrading some of their features, Digital Scoreboards is able to sell them to schools at a fraction of what they would pay to install a brand new videoboard in their stadium.

“We’re coming in at 25 percent of the cost of something new at a price point where schools can afford it,” said Ken Fromer, president of Digital Scoreboards. “We can give schools that big-league feel versus the old videoboards that just show the score.”

Fromer said the rebuilt videoboards can show replays, live video, animations and, most importantly for school districts, advertisements. That helps programs quickly pay down the board’s cost, which ranges from a “bare bones” version at $40,000 to a fully equipped board that can cost nearly $90,000. Videoboard sizes ranges from 10 feet by 36 feet to 14 feet by 48 feet.

To avoid obstacles in making repairs, Fromer said he’s stockpiling the old advertising boards to use for parts. Digital Scoreboards has sold to high schools and colleges in 10 states, and some have already come back to purchase additional boards for advertising or other venues.

Schools that make a purchase from Digital Scoreboards receive training on using the board, 24/7 tech support and a three- to five-year parts warranty.

To learn more, visit www.digitalscoreboardsllc.com.

WHOOP

This intuitive wearable was designed with elite athletes in mind, providing them with detailed analytics that keep them healthy while optimizing performance.

whoop-2Founder Will Ahmed, who played squash at Harvard, said WHOOP was created to give athletes a better understanding of their bodies and how they respond to training, competition and rest. Athletes can wear the device 24 hours a day, measuring heart rate, heart rate variability, skin conductivity, ambient temperature, and accelerometery and motion. That data is automatically uploaded to a platform that analyzes intensity, recovery and sleep performance.

“We did a ton of testing at Harvard on athletes, and we did sleep studies and clinics,” Ahmed said. “We really took accuracy to the highest level that we possibly could.”

WHOOP sets itself apart from wearables like Fitbit and Garmin by honing in on athletes instead of the average health-conscious consumer. Before developing the product, Ahmed reviewed more than 500 medical papers to fully understand athletes’ bodies and physiology.

The device has even been shown to encourage behavioral changes in college athletes. Ahmed said players using WHOOP were shown to get 41 more minutes of sleep each night and alcohol consumption declined by 76 percent.

To make life easier on athletes and coaches, Ahmed said the online dashboard makes it easy to analyze and understand the data. WHOOP already has the backing of trainers for LeBron James and Michael Phelps.

To learn more about WHOOP, visit www.whoop.com.

Roo Inferno

Even hand warmers could use some upgrades every now and then.

roooutdoorMike Kafka, who played quarterback at Northwestern University before spending five seasons in the NFL, created Roo Inferno, an updated version of the hand warmers that hang from the waists of football players. Jerseys, helmets and shoes have been improved over the years, but Kafka wondered why hand warmers never received the same attention.

“As a quarterback, I thought my hands were the most important thing and the hand warmer was never really something that developed,” Kafka said. “I had it twist behind me, twist in front of me and the activated hand warmers would fall out. I wrote down every one of the problems I was having with it, and we addressed every single one.”

Kafka compares the outdated hand warmers to loaves of bread, and he said many of his fellow quarterbacks agree. The Roo Inferno is only 7 millimeters thick, lying flat across the player’s body. A rubber grip on the inside prevents it from sliding, and a zipper keeps the warming pouches in place.

The Roo Inferno has gained a lot of interest in the high school market, but the professional ranks have been a struggle due to licensing restrictions. It has also become a popular accessory for hunters.

Kafka’s hand warmer is sold for $49.99 on his Roo Outdoor website, and he’s in talks with a few stores to get it on shelves by this fall.

For more information, visit www.roooutdoor.com.

Neptune GameTime

Vulgar music is no longer a problem at sports venues.

Athletic departments were always tasked with finding appropriate music during games, but Neptune GameTime does the work for them. Initially created for waterparks, Neptune expanded into the sports industry by providing a customized music solution that plays songs free of explicit content. Neptune gives schools access to a library of 8,000 songs, and they can choose the type of music they want added to their custom platform.

neptune-gametime“The big thing is on-demand,” said founder Eric Jontra. “When we first started, it was something we’d program and all they had was the ability to turn it up and turn it down. Now they can make decisions, talk back and forth between the system and choose what plays.”

Neptune GameTime was initially tested in seven Texas school districts, and Jontra said it received rave reviews. It’s now used by nearly 400 school districts and 25 colleges.

The system carries an annual service fee in the range of $1,800 to $2,400 with a $750 start-up fee, but schools have the opportunity to recoup that money. Neptune GameTime allows programs to sell sponsorships and play advertisements between songs, and Jontra said schools average about $10,000 per year in revenue — some make up to $50,000.

“The athletic director is massively overworked, game day is rough and this takes some of the pressure off,” Jontra said. “They no longer have to screen their music.”

To learn more, visit www.neptunenow.com.

Ticket Spicket

Ticket Spicket is an innovative resource that aims to simplify the lives of athletic directors, honing in on the ticketing and sponsorship aspects of game day.

ticket-spicketTicket Spicket allows fans to purchase digital tickets to games, increasing sponsorship opportunities while streamlining traffic at the gate. Most schools hand out generic “raffle tickets” to fans who pay for entry, so Ticket Spicket creates a new revenue stream while giving athletic directors greater abilities to track attendance.

The developers have already anticipated potential concerns by athletic departments, and co-founder Russell Hertzberg said Ticket Spicket can co-exist with their current ticketing process. Schools can continue using paper tickets with the program, and wireless internet is not required at the gates to take digital tickets.

“Certainly, there are a lot of people who don’t have a smartphone and don’t want to use the app, so schools aren’t required to change what they’re doing,” Hertzberg said. “This is just another way to charge entrance to a game, but obviously we want to encourage people to use it.”

There is no start-up cost, but the company does get a portion of transactions made through Ticket Spicket. That can be offset by selling sponsorships or offering exclusive deals to fans who purchase their tickets digitally.

With Ticket Spicket comes a dashboard that allows athletic directors to manage schedules and sponsorships while tracking attendance, revenue and trends. Ticket Spicket’s mobile app is expected to be launched in August.

For more information, visit www.ticketspicket.com.

Rapsodo Baseball

High school pitchers can get big-league treatment with Rapsodo’s new pitch analysis technology.

rapsodoRapsodo Baseball can track a pitch’s spin axis, ball trajectories, vertical and horizontal break, and speed, along with other meaningful metrics. The lightweight tracking machine is mounted behind home plate, and data is streamed wirelessly to a tablet to instantly provide coaches with critical information essential to a pitcher’s performance.

Rapsodo already offers a launch monitor for golfers, giving players metrics on club speed, ball speed, distance, spin and launch angle. Developments in technology gave the company an opportunity to develop pitching software that’s affordable for high schools, travel leagues and small colleges.

While tracking a number of different pitching metrics, Rapsodo Baseball can also save the data so coaches and players can monitor progress over time. That’s especially helpful to coaches and teams concerned about a player’s long-term health. If a pitcher suddenly experiences a sharp drop in velocity or change in mechanics, it’s easier to identify by looking at a broad range of data.

Pitch tracking technology used in the professional and college ranks can cost close to $20,000, but Rapsodo Baseball retails for $3,000. The technology was unveiled earlier this year at the American Baseball Coaches Association’s annual conference.

Interested programs can preorder Rapsodo Baseball at www.rapsodo.com.

Wilson X Connected Football

With all the intuitive technology making its way into the market, it was only a matter of time before a smart football joined the fray.

Wilson XThe Wilson X Connected Football is the first of its kind, giving quarterbacks the ability to gain meaningful data on their throws. The football is capable of measuring distance, spin rate, speed, spiral efficiency and catch/drop rate, also giving it relevance to receivers.

Each football is embedded with a chip that takes readings and uses Bluetooth technology to communicate with smartphones and tablets. Statistics and ratings are saved and can be compared against friends or teammates.

There’s no need to charge the football, and activating it only requires that the athlete hold it vertically for two seconds. It’s expected to last for 200,000 throws.

In addition to training metrics, Wilson added a few game modes to the technology that tests athletes’ efficiency and accuracy under pressure. Players can compete against virtual teams, completing real passes to move their offense down the field.

Last year, Wilson introduced the Connected Basketball and taking that technology into football was a natural step in offering smart training aids for the most popular sports. Wilson’s Connected Basketball retails for $200, and its football — expected to be available this fall — could fall within the same price range.

For more information about the Wilson X Connected Football, visit www.wilson.com.

Under Armour Record-Equipped shoes

Now runners can track all of their mileage and progress simply by wearing the right shoes.

Under Armour released its SpeedForm Gemini 2 Record-Equipped shoes earlier this year, complete with built-in technology that tracks and stores a variety of metrics to help runners improve on the tracks and trails.

under-armourThe shoes include a dime-sized chip that’s activated every time they’re moved, and the battery last for about three years. Once a workout begins, the technology logs time, cadence, duration, distance and splits. The technology uses a formula based on the metrics to accurately calculate distance, and though the shoes themselves use GPS to track a run, they can be connected to the Under Armour MapMyRun app to deliver real-time statistics and store data. The app gives runners the ability to choose from more than 70 million routes and allows them to compete with friends.

It’s possible Under Armour begins to offer the technology in a variety of shoes, but it’s currently only available in the SpeedForm Gemini 2. The shoes retail for $150, which includes a one-year subscription to Under Armour’s MapMyRun MVP program.

So when is it time to buy a new pair? At the 400-mile mark, a notification alerts runners that the shoes must be replaced. Data is saved on the app, so athletes don’t lose their running history with a new pair.

More information can be found at www.underarmour.com.

TANK

Anyone looking at Torque’s new TANK might guess it’s just another equipment cart. Anyone who has actually used it would know it’s much more.

TANK

Sure, athletic programs can use TANK to transport equipment, but its true power lies in its ability to train athletes efficiently and effectively. That’s what led the Indiana Pacers to order the equipment sign unseen, and the Pittsburgh Steelers to purchase one to rehab an injured player.

TANK is similar to a training sled but has a lot more versatility — and wheels. Athletes have the ability to choose from three levels of resistance with a shift lever, and the faster they push the TANK, the greater the resistance. It offers a complete workout that challenges the lower body and ultimately helps athletes increase speed, power and quickness.

The science is represented by the “power curve” that includes three speed zones, according to Torque. The lowest zone is for speed power through stride length and endurance; the middle zone builds acceleration power by increasing launching power and stride frequency; and the top zone provides explosive power and quickness.

The optional Group Anchor Station gives users the ability to load weights and accessories on to the TANK, and it also functions as an anchor station for battle ropes and resistance bands.

TANK is designed to be an effective training tool for athletes in most sports. It’s also completely safe on turf, hardwood and carpet.

Learn more about TANK at www.torquefitness.com.


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