More Sport, Less Injury: Using data to reduce the risks of injury in adolescence and keep people playing into adulthood
“We take our responsibility extremely seriously…we cannot make a single data mistake.”
We sat down with Damian Smith, Chief Technical Officer at our customer Podium Analytics, to understand how this innovative start-up is using data to revolutionise the world of sport. We created and maintain the trusted data foundation to support their innovation.
Tell us a bit about Podium and what you’re trying to achieve.
Sport is incredibly valuable to the lives of many. It helps to maintain physical health into old age, promotes positive mental health, and gives people a community for support and socialisation. Our goal is to help people play sport for as long as they want to, to whatever level they want to.
Historically, there hasn’t been a whole lot of attention paid to sports injuries – why they happen, how they happen, when they happen, and who are they happening to? But injuries can have a massive impact on someone’s enjoyment and participation in sport. We want to help reduce injuries in sport by understanding why they happen, spotting trends and understanding causality. In the simplest terms: More sport, less injury.
We were founded by Ron Dennis of McLaren Formula One fame. He was a governor at a school where injuries were affecting their ability to field a first-15 rugby team. He wanted to help fix the problem and so started asking questions to understand what was going on, like: what kinds of injuries were happening? Were they occurring in training or in matches? Who’s getting injured? He found that there wasn’t any data to work with because there isn’t any requirement to report injuries that occur within a sporting context in schools.
“To solve the problem, you first need to understand what is going on. That’s impossible without data.”
And that’s where the idea for Podium began – that we needed a better understanding of the youth and grassroots sports landscape if we can have any hope of doing good.
Sounds ambitious! What has been your strategy for making it happen?
Our first challenge was to address the severe lack of data. We created the SportSmart app to collect data and start revealing injury trends. It is used by teachers in schools, coaches, clubs, parents and players to record injuries and related information quickly and easily. We’re already gathering injury data from hundreds of thousands of players across the UK, and hopefully by next year that number will be into the millions.
To encourage engagement with our initiatives, we needed to facilitate and amplify conversations around sporting injuries to raise awareness of the lifelong problems they can cause. For Podium, it seems to be a case of ‘right place, right time’, as people are now so open to having these conversations – you can see the positive approach that is being taken with the issue of concussion in sport, for example. The conversations are widespread, the research is ongoing, and clubs are already able to use some of the findings to better protect players.
Eventually, we want to support all UK sport. But we started our journey with a focus on young people because, with them, we can make a generational change. Some of the injuries that you get in adolescence can stay with you for the rest of your life. When you’re young, you’ve got softer bones, muscles are still strengthening, and growth spurts can present time periods when you’re at higher risk of injury.
“If we can reduce risks of injury in adolescence, we can help people continue with their love of sport into adulthood.”
Before Podium, you used to work at the English Cricket Board – a long-established company with over 100 years of cricket data and information from a web of connected clubs and counties. What’s it been like moving to a start up?
It was a fantastic opportunity to help create an organisation where I could work with like-minded people on something that’s dear to my heart. I’ve been working in sport for over 10 years now and I love this industry – it feels like my opportunity to make the world a better place, and Podium help me takes that to the next level.
“We are democratising the elite performance, injury management, and injury surveillance tools that have historically only been available to those at the pinnacle of their sports. So, whether you’re a child doing PE in school, a Sunday league footballer, or a county-level cricketer, we want to make sure everyone benefits from the knowledge gained from studying the elite level.”
We have a team within Podium focused on taking learnings from professional settings and examining how they can be applied in a school or club environment. And we’ve set up a Research Institute called the Podium Institute at Oxford University that is focused on identifying and researching key injury trends, working with data from across sport, alongside data collected on our SportSmart app, to understand the injury landscape and help come up with solutions.
How do you go about getting buy-in from schools and clubs to use the SportSmart app?
To get people on board with using the app, we knew we had to make it easier to use it than not use it. Teachers and coaches are stretched for time, and the last thing they want to do is be given another form to fill out. We’re conscious that the app needs to work within a time-poor context, so we’ve made it as simple to use as possible. We also have an interactive and collaborative process with schools; we’re continually working with them to find out what works and what doesn’t. Their feedback is built into our ongoing development; there is an iterative, agile approach of developing the app and we have a new software release every two weeks.
Before you worked in sport, you worked in some very different areas: namely, tobacco, defence, and investment banking. Were you able to bring any learnings across from those industries?
Absolutely. All the organisations that I’ve worked with over the years have been data-rich and didn’t necessarily understand the enormous value hidden in their own data until we dug into it. Podium, whilst being a much newer organisation, is completely data driven and evidence based in its operations and decision making.
“We knew going into this that if we have poor-quality data, then we’ll make we’ll reach poor-quality decisions, draw flawed conclusions and offer incorrect advice. It’s been imperative for us that, from day one, absolutely everything must be built upon the highest quality data foundation.”
What keeps you up at night?
We’re capturing highly sensitive, medical data about young people. Possibly the most sensitive data you can hold. We take our responsibility extremely seriously and so we cannot make a single data mistake. One data breach and our reputation is lost; rely on bad data in our research and we’ll reach the wrong conclusions and give bad advice. So, in that sense, data quality, data security, and data privacy are the things that keep me awake at night because we’re striving for perfection in all three.
As a result, we are obsessive on all those things. It’s why we started from day one ensuring we can maintain the quality of our data to the best possible standard, and combat data atrophy in the quickest and most reliable way.
What’s next for Podium?
At the Podium Institute in Oxford University, we’re working on a number of exciting projects, especially around the field of concussion. In sports like rugby, there have been some fantastic research over the last 10 to 20 years to understand how concussions are happening and then adjusting their laws accordingly. But what’s the next level of that?
‘Concussion’ is a catch-all term that covers all sorts of traumatic brain injuries to different parts of the brain. We want to understand more about the different kinds of concussions; understand what’s happening to the brain when it is injured in different places; understand how this links to the ways people experience concussion; and how long they take to heal.
This involves some exciting technology to get a better picture than ever before. High-quality video captures head injuries as they occur and is combined with other kind of multi modal sources of data. For instance, instrumented mouth guards to gather telemetry about the rotational and impact forces on the head, and technology to monitor which blood and salivary biomarkers are triggered. Then players are whisked off to a functional MRI scanner within 90 minutes of an injury to see observe the impacts. This helps us work backwards and understand the exact situations that give rise to different head injuries, informs diagnosis, and helps create a graduated return to play for injured players.
It can then be used more proactively across all levels of sport as well, as it enables a dose model to monitor and restrict the amount of contact a player can endure before it becomes unsafe. Knowing in real time when a player needs to come off the pitch because a mouth guard has detected a significant level of head injury. Or having the information to define the recovery period required after a particular type of concussion.
The more we know about concussions, the bigger positive impact we can have on sport and participation – from equipment, the laws and formats of the game, and how responsive the officials and coaches can be when incidents happen.
Want to read more about how Podium used Infoshare to create this trusted data foundation to underpin their analytics? Read the Podium Analytics case study.
Have business ambitions that need a high quality data foundation to make it successful? We can help!