In this series, “Partner Vision,” the RevelX partners introduce themselves. They share the road that led them to RevelX and the role they play at our firm. In each episode, one of our partners will give their vision on a hot topic in their professional field.

In the sixth article in this series, we give the microphone to Jeroen van der Vlugt. He was a partner for almost 10 years at the consultancy firm Boer & Croon before he founded RevelX in 2014. He is involved in SportInnovator, a network in which researchers, entrepreneurs, sports organizations and governmental bodies collaborate on the development of sport knowledge and sport innovations. We want to know Jeroen’s take on sports innovation.

Hi Jeroen, let’s begin with a question of conscience: Are you a sportsman yourself?

“I like to run. At the moment, that includes distances between 6 miles and a half-marathon. I have the ambition to run a marathon within 1 or 2 years in a respectable time.”

Are you constantly trying to improve yourself?

“Yes, that is my intention. Otherwise, I would not run competitions of course. I use a number of tools for this.

“When I started running, I bought a Fitbit. That is a fun gadget, but for running, it is not good enough. Then I bought a Garmin ForeRunner, which gives you better insights into your running dynamics. It really tracks a lot of things: your heartbeat, the steps you make, your cadence, which is a very important input parameter, your speed, the GPS location where you last walked, the weather, et cetera. The next stage was a Stryd Power Meter, which gives me real-time insights into my wattage. This innovation came out some 2 years ago. I know how high my wattage should be if I want to be able to run a half-marathon at a certain time, hence the Power Meter gives input for my training plan.”

Generally speaking, what are the most important areas of innovation in sports?

“I see 4 areas. The first is food, both for performance and for recovery. In the old days, cyclist Joop Zoetemelk may have eaten some sandwiches with peanut butter before climbing onto his bike. Nowadays, there is a sophisticated dietary schedule for Tom Dumoulin.

“The second is sports engineering which is constantly developing better material. Take for example the production of better sails, better masts, and better-formed hulls for the sport of sailing.

“The third is movement physiology: How do you move? This area can help runners use their run more efficiently.

“The fourth area is about (big) data. That factor influences all other areas which cannot be properly analyzed without the use of sensors, algorithms, and big data.”

There is much more innovation in sports than in business. Do you have any explanation?

“First, sports competitions are already about measuring, and the benchmark is often the same. A hundred meters is a hundred meters, no matter what. Further, you can compare your achievement with the track record. This gives a good benchmark for sporters.

“Moreover, professional sports is about winning, and people invest in training for a very long time. The differences between winning and losing are sometimes very small, for example, in the case of bobsled, as little as a thousandth of a second. So, as a coach or athlete, you listen when someone comes to tell you: ‘If we put a strip on your skating suit, your air resistance will improve, and you will be a half a second faster over the 1,500 meters.’ That half-second means for you the difference between a gold medal and a fifth or sixth place.

“The performance of a company is much more difficult to standardize than this. Of course you can look at competitors but this will not give you the total picture. You are dealing with a lot of environmental factors such as political influences, laws, and regulations. Moreover, the definition of success is much more difficult to measure.”

It will not be long before all athletes use data and analytics, I think. Will this be the end of sportsmanship?

“I am not afraid this will happen. Creativity also remains important. Take chess, for example. I saw a fascinating documentary about genius chess player Magnus Carlsen. His opponent was Viswanathan Anand who has a team of 30 data scientists who had analyzed all previous matches and moves. Magnus is a creative chess player who taps into the unexpected. Anand always reasons: ‘If he makes this move, I will make that move.’ But Magnus acted unexpectedly, and he defeated Anand. The same goes for other sports where tactics come into place.”

What will sports competitions look like in 30 years?

“I think that sports will become much more interactive. Spectators will experience a lot more through their devices, whatever those will be in 2048. They will have all sorts of data and statistics at their disposal. Through Augmented Reality, spectators may even experience game situations such as taking a penalty kick themselves and see if they can do better than Ronaldo.

“Because of technological innovations such as these, sports and electronic sports will become increasingly intertwined. E-sport may even become an Olympic sport, but in a separate category.

Meanwhile, sports innovation never stops, that is the beauty of it. The coming years, I expect that sports innovations will help me get ideas for my work at RevelX. At the same time, I hope to keep bringing insights gathered at RevelX to SportInnovator.”

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