The Philadelphia Eagles’ “mystery man” and the future of the quantified self

I’m no big football fan, but since I married a Philly sports junkie, I often have little choice but to follow the latest (usually disappointing) news about the Eagles.
But maybe now I have a reason of my own to pay attention.
In a story on its site this week, Sports Illustrated gives a look at the Eagles’ new data-driven era under coach Chip Kelly (and his former Navy SEAL trainer “mystery man” Shaun Huls). And though it focuses on the hyper high-tech world of elite sports science, I think it actually offers a few little insights that could be relevant for anyone interested in the so-called quantified self movement and its implications for healthcare.
Who knows if any of this will actually help the Eagles win more games. But there are three things the quantified self field could learn in the meantime.
Data is good, but insights are better
The story describes a bunch of nifty devices above and beyond the Fitbits (see disclosure), Jawbone Ups and Nike Fuelbands the rest of us mere mortals wear. And what’s clear is that, in many cases, the software and hardware work together to give the coaches not just raw data but insights they can use to make real decisions.
For example, ECG and Bluetooth sensors and software from Omegawave track players’ reaction times, recovery speeds and other metrics and then give detailed reports and analysis that help coaches gauge players’ physical and mental readiness. And monitors from Polar track athletes’ heart rates and provide post-workout reports with a specific timestamp indicating when an athlete can handle more training.  This stuff obviously isn’t cheap – teams apparently pay sports-sensor company Catapult Sports $100,000 a year to use its technology.
There’s still a place for people
The article makes the point that “big data means the most when there’s an expert there to understand and apply it.” And even though average consumers may not have the resources or time to consult their own data whisperer like the Eagle’s Huls, it’s worth appreciating the value of real human analysis in the tech-driven quantified self movement.
Startups like the UK-based Tictrac recognize that and are beginning to build platforms that enable consumers to share data from fitness trackers and other health data with personal trainers, nutritionists and other coaches. And some new patient-engagement web services for employers and healthcare providers are also built to let doctors and others help patients interpret their health data.
Multiple data streams are better than one
Most consumers who track their health now likely only use one device or app (if they use any tool at all) to monitor a particular slice of their health – like their sleep or their weight or their menstrual cycle. But the approach of the Eagles’ and other NFL teams shows the value of being able to monitor and compare multiple data streams at once.
For example, according to Forbes, the Jacksonville Jaguars collected information from players about their sleep habits and emotions and referenced it against sensor data from Catapult Sports to prove that players perform significantly better on more sleep. That’s just a small example but it suggests that being able to cross-reference data can help in the decision-making process.
The average consumer obviously doesn’t need his activity tracked with the same granularity of an elite athlete, but being able to compare Fitbit data with blood glucose data with other clinical data could help doctors and patients make better health decisions.
Disclosure: Fitbit is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.
Image by Jerry Zitterman via Shutterstock.