Sports Tech

Accelerating Change: Technology Is Revolutionizing Athlete Health, Wealth and Performance

In downtown Chicago on Wednesday, the NFL Players Association and SportTechie brought together pro athletes and industry experts. The goal was to discuss how technology can be leveraged to improve the lives of athletes both on and off the field. At Accelerating Change: Athlete Health, Wealth and Performance, Matt Forte, one of the top Bears […]

In downtown Chicago on Wednesday, the NFL Players Association and SportTechie brought together pro athletes and industry experts. The goal was to discuss how technology can be leveraged to improve the lives of athletes both on and off the field.

At Accelerating Change: Athlete Health, Wealth and Performance, Matt Forte, one of the top Bears running backs in franchise history, recounted a recent conversation with Bears rookie David Montgomery. “I told him that you should do more than what’s expected of you when you come into the league,” Forte said. “If you are doing the same workout as everybody else, you’re going to be the same as everybody else.

You’ve got to go above and beyond that. But also, I told him not to pigeon hole himself in just being an athlete. Whatever you’re interested in outside of that, start working on that now.”

Forte was joined by a half-dozen pro athletes from professional soccer and football. Former Colts and Bengals tight end, and Super Bowl XLI champion, Ben Utecht opened up about his five career-ending concussions.

New Orleans Saints’ all-time franchise leader in receiving yards, Marques Colston, and former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Mundy, talked about the importance of continuing education. Chicago Red Stars player and president of the National Women’s Soccer League Players Association Brooke Elby discussed the challenges of launching a players’ union and offered tips on how brands should approach pro athletes with opportunities.

Robert Smith, who played eight seasons as running back with the Minnesota Vikings in the 1990s and is now a college football analyst on Fox, discussed the evolution of injury assessment and rehabilitation.

Robert Smith, who played eight seasons as running back with the Minnesota Vikings in the 1990s and is now a college football analyst on Fox, discussed the evolution of injury assessment and rehabilitation.

Mental Health 

Utecht argued that assessing the mental health of an athlete needs to factor in both the physiological and psychological states of the brain. While mental health and head injury were rarely discussed during his career, Utecht said that is now starting to change within pro and collegiate teams.

“We’ve come an awful long way since I retired in 2009. To be completely honest with you, there wasn’t really any talk about concussions, about mental health, about the larger effects of playing in a contact sport,” he said. “I do know teams are now taking mental health much more seriously and providing the staffing and support behind that really give those players places to go and trust is really important.

And then you go to all of the rules changes that didn’t exist while I was playing the game. I think those rules have really helped the game.”

Athlete Wealth

On their all-athlete panel, Colston, Mundy, and Elby talked about the importance of not falling into “irrational confidence” as a new pro. Rather, they urged athletes to use the resources provided by players’ associations like the NFLPA to further their personal growth.  

Mundy, who now serves as managing director of the VC firm Techlete Ventures, studied for two years at the University of Miami to prepare for what he referred to as “Ryan 2.0,” cultivating skills so that he could succeed after his professional athletic career came to a close.

“It’s an interesting time to be an athlete and maximize your brand off the field,” he explained.  Colston, the founder and managing partner of Dynasty Digital, said he’d like athletes to work together, particularly athletes of color, to get more minorities into the tech and enterprise world. “It’d be nice to walk into these VC meetings and have someone else who looks like me.” 

During an Athletes Voice keynote, Forte, who earned a finance degree at Tulane University, emphasized the risk of making financial mistakes.  “God has blessed me to get a couple of NFL contracts so I know how to take care of my money, but also I want to use that help other people,” he says. “A lot of guys will trust the wrong people who do take advantage of them. I want to be able to educate myself and speak knowledgeably to them about that.  I’m looking to give a lot more than I have received.” 

Physical Performance

David Reavy, the founder of React Physical Therapy, has long helped to rehabilitate athletes, including Forte, and explained that injuries tend to resurface because athletes overcompensate. “Elite athletes are some of the best compensators,” he said. “And that’s why nobody knows what happened. But if you address the root cause, it changes a lot of things and I think it can extend careers.” 

David Gil, the performance lab director of wearable tracking company VERT Technology, argued that more sophisticated assessment tools are making training, performance analysis and rehabilitation more individualized. “When you look at the concept of load management, that idea first started with duration of practice – that’s literally how you’d see what that load was for that practice. It was two hours.

That was a heavier load than our one-hour practice. Then you start getting a lot more detail. You start looking at GPS systems, distance traveled, obviously heart rate. Now it’s to the point where we can prescribe individually what a practice should look like for a basketball player, tennis player, a volleyball player.”

By Jen Booton

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