While Mindy Kahling and cast from “The Mindy Project” were hilariously holding court at the Austin Convention Center, the auditorium began to be infiltrated by soccer fans for the keynote address. Those who love soccer weren’t about to miss the chance to hear U.S. National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann in person, interviewed by Men in Blazer’s Roger Bennett. Fortunately, I love both soccer and Mindy Kahling, so it was a total win-win to find a seat an hour early.
Bennett gave an intro that had fans on their feet chanting “USA! USA!” and brought goose bumps to die-hards with a clips reel (including that snowy, incredible qualifying-round win against Costa Rica). The international crowd—I was sitting next to attendees from Norway, and questions later came from conference participants from Columbia and Germany—welcomed him with a roar.
Questions ranged from how Klinsmann stays so positive to when America will win the World Cup. His message was that, while things are on a positive path, there is much work to be done over the next generation. The “Americanized German” is striving to “empower athletes to understand where they are today” and move U.S. players to the next level by letting them learn through experience. They need to play more games as they strive to work harder—and, ultimately, be better—than their European Premier League counterparts. Klinsmann stressed the need for an educational process for American pro soccer players. “Just because you play Premier League in England doesn’t mean you understand how everything works,” he said. Klinsmann went on to say that with a “generation of people who settle too early,” the task is to “keep them hungry.”
When asked about the upcoming “group of death” (Group G in World Cup play, against Germany, Portugal, and Ghana), Klinsmann displayed some of that positive nature. He said 2014’s games would be “the World Cup of Patience,” and that the team that can better deal with things that don’t go smoothly will have an advantage. When asked about the heat at upcoming games—according to Bennett, it will be “hot, bloody hot, and excruciatingly hot” in Mexico, Azerbaijan, and Turkey—Klinsmann shrugged it off: “At the end of the day, both teams play under the same circumstances. Ronaldo will be there, too. They all start from zero, and it comes down to the 90 minutes you play.”
Over and over, Klinsmann stressed the need for accountability in U.S. soccer: “[You fans need to] tell them ‘You were crap yesterday’—it’s important!” When self-professed negatively-focused Bennett (“For me, the glass isn’t just half empty; it’s cracked”) asked if Clint Dempsey would hold a World Cup trophy during Bennett’s lifetime, Klingmann smiled that change comes with today’s 8–10 age group, and that it would take a generation of work to see the team that can dominate the world. That, however, does not rule out wins in 2014. “Why not?” he said with a smile. “Anything is doable.”
Aside from being winning strategists, college and professional coaches also must be top-tier talent evaluators, and the talent pool is constantly growing more crowded. Consider that there are 1.1 million high school football players in the United States alone, and the process of identifying the next star athletes continues to grow from regional to national to international.
Kai Sato and Avi Stopper each represented organizations that were conceived to analyze and strategize the recruiting and scouting process. Sato is the co-founder of FieldLevel, a coach-to-coach recruiting network, and Stopper is the founder and CEO of CaptainU, a network that connects high school athletes, youth coaches, events, and college coaches.
The inconsistency of data among high school sports makes it hard to rely on sheer numbers when evaluating prospects, so building relationships is essential. College coaches must consider who will be a good fit for the school; academic and social factors are important.
“Metrics don’t measure emotion,” Sato said. “It’s hard to quantify a human being’s potential.”
Both Sato and Stopper admitted that currently a tool or service does not exist that can accurately assess quantitative and subjective information.
Mike Vasquez, Ph.D., was inspired to study engineering as a teenager playing baseball; the different sounds made by changing materials found in new versions of bats fascinated him. That interest led Vasquez to develop expertise in “pushing the intersection of engineering and sports,” and the hot topic at that juncture is 3D printing. “Sports has always been on the cutting edge, where they can take risks with technology,” Vasquez said.
While 3D printing is not practical for the everyday athlete at this time, elite competitors and big company players are already utilizing the technology to save money and get prototypes tested quickly. According to interviewer Jeff Beckham (who did an excellent job of guiding the discussion such that all in attendance—whether science geeks or literary nerds—could follow), Caterham F1 Team, for example, is already printing molds and testing car parts before committing to their use, at a savings of some $800,000 a year. Vasquez spoke at length about how the technology is usable in snowboarding as part of the R&D involved in building better bootstraps.
3D printing allows the company to create the many molds (left/right foot, men’s/women’s sizes, and S/M/L for each combination thereof) at a fraction of the cost and time. For the 2013 NFL combine, athletes could print spikes for their Nike shoes that were specialized for the type of movements required in the 40-yard dash and agility cone run. Many of the national Olympic teams have embraced the technology; Vasquez had hoped to have a member of the Olympic Committee on the panel to discuss the topic.
Vasquez explained that we may never be able to print out our own running shoes at home—equipment expense and types of materials needed, not to mention the whole hurdle of how to actually structure the rights to this type of activity, restrict practical application for the masses. He touched on 3D printing in biotechnology (already in use in the dental field) and injury prevention (customizing protective gear, creating better fitting casts and splints), and mused on the effect of the technology on traditional methods of manufacturing (“That’s not going away…3D printing can make a more productive tool to help the person on the manufacturing line,”).
What was truly exciting was to hear was how this technology has led to customization in wheelchair basketball. The standard wheelchair used by players is a one-size-fits-all device, though the athletes utilizing wheelchairs are a varied group. With 3D printing, the athlete’s body is first scanned in order to create a unique illustration of skeletal and biomechanical attributes. Then, a competition chair is crafted of printed parts that take into account the individual’s particular body measurements and positioning needs. Both performance and comfort are enhanced with the ensuing personalized product.
This panel, led by Lodestone Media’s Mark Drosos and Mark Pannes of Raptor Accelorator, unfolded into group interaction, as Drosos lobbed questions, and pre-planned prizes, toward the seated group of mostly team marketers and stakeholders.
The room traded stories and ideas about how mobile devices affect in-stadium experience, if sponsorship obligations detract from game presentation, and the rights of tailgaters.
Drosos and Pannes were both committed to the code of "customer is always right."
“You can't put yourself at opposition with your fanbase,” Pannes said.
“Do players look like Tarzan and play like Jane?” — Kai Soto (@KaiDaywalker)
The MVP Index is a start-up firm seeking analytics for sports personalities’ social media brand imprint. They report the NBA has the most players on Twitter with 83 percent. Women's tennis is second with 78 percent, then Nascar with 77 percent.