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The Age of Performance Intelligence


Stephen Smith


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It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.  – Charles Darwin

The human species is amazingly adaptive to change. As Darwin’s quote states, it is not strength nor speed nor even our intelligence that is solely responsible for our success as a species to date. Our adaptability to both gradual and sudden change has been key.

The more I travel the globe meeting with sports practitioners, executives, coaches, and scientists, the more I realize that adapting to both gradual and sudden change is a key element to the success of elite sports organizations. This has never been more true in sports than now, as the rising cost of talent, the thin margins of competitive edge, and the proliferation of data are forcing teams to rethink everything from their organizational vision through day-to-day execution.

We all carry smartphones with us nearly everywhere. The reason we do is that the utility of cellphones changed overnight when the iPhone introduced us to an innovative, new form factor — namely a large touch screen lacking the need for a physical keypad.

As an industry, we are at an inflection point where there exists the possibility for dramatic strides forward in sports performance. I believe this change will not be found by simply continuing to collect enormous quantities of data, centralizing it and running reports with it.

With new tools and techniques, we must now achieve a deeper understanding of the relationships that exist within our data – or Performance Intelligence – and with that insight harness the far greater opportunities to improve human performance than ever before.

This will require us to shift our way of thinking about how we manage our athletes and operations — a shift that is as consequential to sports as the smartphone was to the cellphone industry.

My goal with this new blog series is to create a dialog within the industry about the nature of where we are now and where we are going.

The enormous changes that are occurring at the intersections of technology, sports science, data science, and sports medicine represent new challenges and new opportunities for teams to massively accelerate their path towards peak performance.



There are two fundamental types of changes: evolution and transformation. Evolution tends to look incremental and gradual and often is difficult to perceive from-day to-day. They are minor, beneficial adaptations that provide small advantages and improvements without fundamentally altering the nature and outcomes of what we do.

However, transformation is readily observable. Unlike the slow and steady progress of evolution, it is the use of unexpected solutions over conventional methods to create rapid transformative change. This is particularly true in areas of human achievement such as with technology and sports. Radical innovations can produce sudden changes with immediate impact.

It was the transformative change of a new kind of handheld device – the iPhone that changed the world

This innovation utterly transformed our relationships with these new kinds of smart devices and, by extension, with each other. Creating that extra screen space and removing the fixed keyboard provided a utility that spurred thousands of new use cases for phones and forever changed the way we behave. The invention of the cell phone was the gradual change — the natural evolution from a wired device to a wireless one.

But this new form factor from Apple could be paired with advances in computing power, bandwidth, software design, and other technologies to produce a new world of apps and an extraordinary means for content generation and consumption that could all run on a convenient handheld computer.

Both the invention of the cell phone and iPhone changed the world. But it was the transformative change of a new kind of handheld device – the iPhone – that changed the world overnight.

Sports Changes Both Gradually and in Shocks

Like the example of the cell phone and the iPhone, sport changes at two speeds – the evolutionary change that is gradual, incremental and predictable and the sudden shock of innovation that impacts a sport dramatically all at once.

We’ve all seen how new training methods, new schemes, new strategies, etc., can gradually accumulate to provide competitive advantages for a team. But increasingly, technology is having a more dramatic and transformational impact on sports — and like the introduction of the iPhone, sometimes it has completely upended the competitive balance in a sport.


The emergence of wearable sensors, optical trackers, and other devices has led to an explosion of training, performance, wellbeing and other data in the hands of performance scientists. This drove us to look at ways to look at the data all together, which led to the  adoption of traditional AMS and similar software solutions to help us digitize, centralize, and visualize data.

The demands of our industry have now outpaced the capabilities of traditional AMS and the impact of analytics is creating too large a gap to ignore.

However, much as the plastic keyboard limited the potential of the cell phone platform, the ability to centralize and visualize our data has not maximized our ability to make sense of the data to continuously improve performance and health.

Cell phones could let you make a call and receive an email, but transformation didn’t occur until there was a new way to interact with a new kind of technology.

Traditional AMSs and similar software platforms are the sporting world’s version of pre-smartphone technology. Every day I see how the utility of data centralization and reporting alone is being rapidly overtaken by a deep-rooted desire for greater knowledge over just more information.

We want to understand how fit athletes need to be, how strong they need to be, how quick they need to be, how agile they need to be, and many more essential questions — and traditional AMS software is no better equipped to answer these questions than a cell phone from 2001 would be to watch a YouTube video.


Every practitioner that I talk to doesn’t want to simply paint a picture of what has happened, they want to shape the future and continuously improve. This is only possible with a new generation of transformative analytical tools and techniques that allow us to find and understand meaningful patterns and relationships in our data that are tied to success. This is only possible with Performance Intelligence.

We need to be able to answer our most important questions through transparent and unbiased research and leverage analytics to find insights that allow us to exponentially increase our impact on performance and talent development, and transform how we work together as practitioners and coaches to achieve them.

We no longer book holidays with travel agents, nor do we rent movies from a Blockbuster store. It is my belief that our industry is moving beyond spending time managing athlete data to focusing on finding intelligence in that data to power human performance.



  • CEO's Desk
  • Human Performance
  • Performance Optimization
  • Sports Data Analytics
  • Sports Science

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  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen is Kitman Labs’ CEO and founder. He was previously Senior Injury Rehabilitation & Conditioning Coach at Leinster Rugby Club. Stephen holds a BSc in Sport & Exercise Rehab and MSc in Football Rehab from Edgehill University.

    CEO & Founder of Kitman Labs


Kitman Labs Joins ‘More than Equal’ Quest To Develop First Female Formula 1 Champion

More than Equal’s mission is to close the gender gap in motor sports and find and develop the first female Formula 1 world champion. They will now have an advanced operating system to centralize data for female drivers participating in More than Equal’s pioneering Development Programme.