New Thinking

Halftime helper: Will the locker room of the future be cognitive?

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The average NFL halftime lasts only 12 minutes.That means coaches have a mere 720 seconds to digest thirty minutes of football, analyze the performance of dozens of players, assess the health of the injured, rehydrate their team, and make real-time adjustments to a game plan that took weeks to develop.

Oh, and if they have any time left over, they might also attempt a motivational speech worthy of Knute Rockne.

Halftime locker rooms are sacred spaces. They allow a team a chance to reflect — however briefly – on their play, away from the prying eyes of television cameras; to collect themselves; to prepare for the rest of the competition.

But for a room that plays such an important role in a team’s success, they are decidedly low-tech. While it’s true that technology is finding its way into the locker room (and onto the sideline), most of that tech simply takes what was once done on a whiteboard, and puts it onto a tablet. Does it speed up the process of accessing data? Definitely. But I think we can do better.

What if a locker room could listen to the coaches and players? What if it could automatically cue up video clips of key plays in the first half, based on what the players and coaches are discussing at halftime? What if it analyzed statistics, recommended substitutions, and suggested alternative plays?

Sounds ridiculous, right? Well, let’s think about it for a minute. A few weeks ago, at the World of Watson show in Las Vegas, IBM announced a partnership with Harman, the maker of audio, video, lighting and control systems. Harman is going to start using IBM Watson to help manage hospital, hotel, and conference rooms. Using voice-activated assistance, Watson will help patients or guests to control various aspects of the room – from the lights to the thermostat to the audio/visual equipment.

In fact, at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, Watson can do more than make the environment more comfortable. It can answer questions about the qualifications of a particular doctor. And it can learn the preferences of an individual over time.

So it holds to reason that Watson could add a similar kind of value to the locker room experience. Perhaps it could identify a wide receiver that has run three times as far as anyone else on the field. Or a quarterback who has lost a little zip on the ball. Or a linebacker that is exhibiting signs of concussion.

None of these things are beyond the realm of possibility. In fact, some of this is already being done today. For example, IBM is working with the Toronto Raptors on first-of-a-kind solution called IBM Sports Insight Central, which can ingest unstructured data types — from video to social media to bio data – to evaluate players and prevent injury. Check out this video of how it works.

Cognitive computing is already extending the expertise of coaching staffs in the conference room. The locker room can’t be far behind. And I’m convinced that Watson’s brand of cognitive support could allow coaches to spend less time counting missed tackles, and more time crafting their Win-one-for-the-Gipper speech.

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