In September, Matt Howley was hired to be Sportlight Technology’s first Director of U.S. Sports. Previously the Director of Sports Science at the University of Notre Dame and the Director of Performance for MLS club Real Salt Lake, Howley most recently served as Human Performance Manager for a muscle-performance-optimization data platform. In a recent conversation, Matt shared more about his background, discussed his role at Sportlight and offered his take on the future of performance tracking.
Your background in sports science, performance management and strength & conditioning is extensive. How deep was your involvement with technology in previous roles?
My previous roles have had a great level of involvement in technology. Whether it was as one of the first users of certain sports-science-based performance-monitoring systems in the United States; as an early adopter in working with AI-based risk analysis systems; or integrating different technology to understand the performance capabilities of athletes, I have been heavily involved with technology throughout my career.
How does Sportlight benefit from having a dedicated U.S.-focused director? And what does the role entail and what are some goals you may have in carrying out your duties?
My position is multifaceted. I play a role in product development, working with our internal team as well as external development partners, to ensure that we are developing a system that will provide immense value to users. Another aspect of the role is sports science support, both internally and externally to our users – helping clients understand the data, information and application of the data that the Sportlight system generates.
My biggest role is providing specific expertise as someone who has a detailed understanding of the American market and users within it. The U.S. landscape is significantly different from other markets, so my first-hand knowledge of the mindset of practitioners and organizations, and my personal experience working in a role similar to this one, helps me understand who and how to approach people and organizations about our system. I support our product development partners and implement the Sportlight system with them, collecting data to better understand our system’s applications within different U.S. sports environments. I play a role in the development of our portable system, which has different targeted objectives than that of our installed stadium system. I help create brand awareness and collect feedback from organizations and front-line practitioners about technologies in their portfolio – including what works and what they like, but also what they are missing and what questions they are still wanting to address. By understanding these things, we can ensure Sportlight is building a system that provides greater value beyond similar technologies in the market.
What aspects of the opportunity, and of Sportlight as a company, appealed to you when you learned about the role?
What Sportlight is trying to do and the technology that is used to collect the data is what I was drawn to. We have the ability to collect what are now considered must-have data sets without the use of invasive wearables and also derive deeper insights that can be provided by other systems currently deployed across the market. Sportlight has a vision for the future. But rather than just replicating what is already out there and just marketing it differently, the company is developing a solution that can provide clients with greater value in so many facets.
As a performance practitioner, what do you consider to be the most important functions or characteristics of a performance-tracking system?
Accuracy, consistency, validity and reliability are the most important things from a data perspective. A solution that is non-invasive and invisible is paramount today. Having the ability to collect data from athletes according to the aforementioned standards, but doing so with no ask from the athlete – or even their awareness – takes a significant burden off practitioners. Wearable technologies amount to another task, commitment or source of pressure for athletes who already face many of each daily. They can also raise comfort issues. Non-wearables also enable practitioners to have other conversations with athletes, rather than routinely checking on and discussing (or grumbling about) the state or fit of their wearable tech.
How do you envision sports organizations' expectations of performance-tracking systems evolving in the future?
Organizations want a non-invasive system that provides the most accurate, consistent and reliable data. The nature of where sports are heading – including the increasing influence of AI, for instance – demand pinpoint accuracy. If you are feeding data that is less than precise into your models, the results you’ll get will be flawed outcomes and suggestions. Inaccurate data leads to practitioners making poor or incorrect decisions, potentially to the detriment of the athlete or team. As technology continues to progress, non-invasiveness, accuracy, consistency and reliability, along with usability, will be the key factors to meeting the performance-tracking and optimization needs of organizations across sports.