SBJ/July 22-28, 2013/Idea Innovators

Troy Flanagan



Photo by: SARAH BRUNSON / USSA
After joining the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association as high performance director in 2007, Troy Flanagan found himself buried in data and frustrated. All of the organization’s training programs were in Excel spreadsheets. Coaches were still calculating the future performance of young skiers by hand. There had to be a better way.

“I look for pain, things that take a long time, and I just try to automate them,” Flanagan said.

That impulse and a brief meeting at a World Cup ski race with a USSA donor, Jim Chiasson, who owns his own software company, led to the creation of Amp Sport. The software system was designed by Chiasson’s designers, and it allows athletes to record everything from how much they sleep to how many sets they do in the weight room. The information is recorded in an app on their Sprint phones and shared instantly with coaches and the USSA’s high performance team. The system also assigns athletes a training regimen from 6,500 exercises, includes video that illustrates how to do various exercises and offers a social media tool to share strategies for skiing at coming competitions.

“Athlete management systems in the past have almost always failed because the technology wasn’t there,” Flanagan said. “But the time is right now to produce these analytic systems to enhance performance. Last year’s World Cup season was the first time I’d seen an amazing difference in the amount of data available to us. People were saying, ‘For the first time, I know what’s going on with every athlete.’”

Innovation you’re most proud of: Athlete management platform that automatically tracks all data on athletes.
Last innovation that made you say, “Wow!”: The alpine speed suit for Sochi 2014.
It may sound crazy now, but soon we’ll be able to …: Send up drones to film our athletes coming down the hill.
A less-than-perfect outcome that you learned from: Athletes can be superstitious, and this can sometimes get in the way of them adopting new technology at the last minute.
What brings out your creativity?: Getting around athletes who are extraordinary at what they do.

Flanagan pointed to two examples of ways that Amp Sport improved USSA’s operations. If an athlete injures his shoulder, Flanagan can click a button and review his training log to determine what he did in prior weeks. Did he do too many sets? Was the weight too great one week?

“Boom, we see it,” Flanagan said. “We can figure out what didn’t work and change training programs with ease.”

Another example is the change in the way coaches analyze skiers. At any given time, the U.S. Ski team has data on the top 30 athletes in the world and information on how their rankings progressed from the age of 16 to where they are today. It compares those top 30 athletes’ progression to its own athletes to determine who is on track to be among the best in the world. Those calculations used to take coaches three months to compile, but the new system automated it.

Flanagan believes that saving time like that and improving the management of athletes’ training will position USSA for success at the Olympics.

“In Vancouver, we doubled our medal count,” he said. “These are developments that are going to allow us to keep doing that, and we’re going to see tremendous results.”
— Tripp Mickle

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