March 5, 2020

“Small performance adjustments across the wider team can deliver the essential marginal gains needed for success.” Q&A with Julian Pate

Julian Pate is Director of Strategic Partnerships at Prevayl®. With over 19 years’ experience working with and scaling brands in the sport, entertainment and technology sectors, he has been supporting the Prevayl business since July 2019.

We caught up with him to discuss the potential for health and cognitive insights in elite sport across football, F1, and eSports.

What first inspired you about Prevayl?

Prior to working in sport I spent a number of years in digital for agencies like AKQA and Razorfish. When I first saw the Prevayl proposition and Adam’s vision for the business, it felt like the  perfect combination for my key passions – sport, innovation and technology.

It’s not often the three are brought together in a way that can have such a positive impact on the future performance of athletes, as well as the health and fitness of individuals.

Someone famously stated that ‘if you have a body you are an athlete’ and it’s this sentiment that excites me about the Prevayl journey and the democratisation of individual health data. The use of technology like Machine Learning and AI is simply the enabler. Helping people to live longer, healthier, and happier lives is the real goal. 

Being involved in something like this from the outset is incredibly exciting.

Your previous experience has seen you work in football with organisations such as Manchester City FC, Valencia CF, and Rangers, how is wearable technology currently being used in football? What impact could Prevayl have in this area?

Wearable tech in the world of sport and football is definitely a hot button at the moment with a number of operators vying for market share. Given the products that are currently available there is a huge opportunity to move beyond simply GPS tracking into much more sophisticated levels of insight around player performance, marginal gains and all-round athlete wellness given the intense nature of the industry.

Prevayl’s health-tech ecosystem will provide coaching staff, clubs and athletes with a level of real-time, human insights currently unavailable anywhere else within the industry. There is a lot of data currently available across multiple sources, but how much of this is drives meaningful decision making in relation to elite performance and athlete wellness is debateable.

Those teams that can truly leverage the power of human insights to deliver marginal gains in elite sports will be the ones to deliver consistent on field success as well as revolutionising individual athlete performance.

What role does cognitive data play in this? Does that have a role to play when it comes to finding the essential marginal gains for sports performance?

The use of performance and health data within the sports industry has been on the increase for a number of years with mixed success depending on the sport. Cycling is a great example of where it has impacted marginal gains and where the approach was first coined.

However there is still a long way to go in many sports including football, especially when it comes to the mental side of things. Too often the mental health of athletes that perform at an elite level is often considered as an afterthought when it should be just as important as physical measures. What sets the real top athletes apart is mental strength. A lot have talent, but few are able to really perform at an elite level over many years. Quite often the difference comes down to the mental side of their personality.

By nurturing the mental health of athletes as well as the physical there is the potential to enhance and sustain their success in both the short and long-term.

You mention athletes suffering injuries and potentially not reaching the heights due to injury. How can individual health and performance data reduce the potential for sports related injuries such as damaged tendons, exhaustion and concussion?

Being able to measure, understand and interpret athlete data in relation to physical performance, physiological status and mental alertness is the key to reducing the risk of injury and ensuring that athletes are in peak condition to perform at an elite level.

The challenge lies in bringing all of this information together in a meaningful way so as to make informed decisions on areas such as treatment plans and personalised training programmes.

When you do this on a bespoke level across every member of a team, you not only ensure your athletes are fit and healthy, this is when you begin to gain the small edges, advantages and marginal gains over your opponents.

That makes sense for team sports like football, but does this also apply to individual sports?

At the elite sport level, very few sports can really be considered individual sports in the true sense of the word. While one athlete might be the focal point, others around them also need to be at peak condition and performance.

In sports like F1 for example, often the fans and media focus on the driver but it’s always worth remembering that in F1 it’s not just about the driver. There is usually a team of around 30 people in and around the garage on race day.

So, how can health and cognitive insights impact the collective performance of this wider team?

Every member of the team in F1 must perform at an elite level. That includes the pit lane and pit wall crews.

By tracking, measuring and analysing the data of every single member of the team comes the ability to assess the performance of the wider support function. Any tiny tweaks to performance, and crucially speed and timing, across this extended team can deliver the essential marginal gains needed for success in the run-up to and on race day itself. All these minor improvements when brought together could make the difference when it comes to being in the points or on the podium.

We’ve seen the rise of e-sports from a fledgling sport in 2012 to the vast industry we know today. What role could wearable technology play in eSports?

Often many “traditional” sports struggle to innovate. There can be a lack of appetite for technology as it may be viewed by some as stepping away from the traditions of the sport or putting embedded models at risk.

This isn’t the case with eSports.

With its willingness to embrace innovation, eSports is a fascinating category for the adoption of wearable technology. Of course this can impact the athlete and team performance in just the same way as it can across multiple sports, but also in relation to fan engagement where the audience is much more participative and open to technology and data as part of the overall experience.