Brothers Jamie and Jonathon Hollins had radically different skill sets, yet they found a way to marry them in a unique business that is thriving in the sports world.
Jamie had studied kinesiology and operated gyms where he trained elite athletes. Jonathon was in the software business, selling programs and hardware needed to run elections. They brought their expertise together to form Sport Testing Inc., using what they call the world's most accurate equipment to assess athletes' fitness and sport-specific skills without bias. Now their growing business is testing athletes all over North America and expanding abroad. The Toronto entrepreneurs believe the data they provide could dramatically change the way talent is identified and developed.
This weekend alone, Sport Testing has been hired to run two large combines in Toronto, using features like sophisticated timing gates, live scoreboard with instantaneous results and online data reporting. For the Ontario Hockey League, the brothers are testing 15-year-old prospects on and off the ice. They are also assessing university-aged hopefuls slated for the CFL draft. The information generated not only helps detect talent, but also shows an athlete where he must improve.
The roster of clients has grown dramatically in the three-plus years Sport Testing has been in business, largely because its hardware can be tweaked to measure nearly any athletic skill. Customers include Basketball Canada, the National Lacrosse League, teams in the NHL and minor hockey leagues, and stars in the NHL's Top Prospects game. Sport Testing has been invited to Russia this spring to assess some of the nation's emerging hockey stars.
The Hollinses started out evaluating large groups of young soccer players, developing soccer-specific tests with the help of experts like Craig Forrest. They didn't settle for typical fitness testing but found ways to measure soccer skills like speed with and without the ball and shooting velocity. They showed coaches where their players could improve, and lessons there helped shape the business.
"They were finding tests that correlated to good players, and the information was valuable," Jonathon Hollins said. "But we wanted to create better technology and a software solution. We wanted to provide report cards and a data base of athlete results. Parents nowadays are often spending thousands of dollars a year on their kids' sport, and they want to know how they are progressing. So we said, let's give the kid, the coaches and the parents an accurate report on where he stands among his peers and help pave the road for his development. If he's been working out like crazy, he should really find out if he's getting any better."
Trainers, coaches and general managers of a particular sport make requests for skills they want to test, and the Hollinses determine how best to execute the tests. They have measured everything from a basic vertical jump or bench press to more sophisticated tests that use their high-precision sensors. They can get detailed information about an athlete's agility and his reaction time as he or she weaves through rows of timing sensors or transitions between forward and backward motions – a basketball player showing his dribbling skills or a hockey player skating with a puck.
Every athlete wears an identification bracelet that he scans at every test. Results go instantaneously onto a live scoreboard, an online data base and into a personal report card for every athlete.
"Jamie and Jonathon have found a niche in the market, and there is no other business in that marketplace that compares to the specific things they can do, because the tests they run are so specific and impressive," said Joe Birch, senior director of hockey development and special events for the OHL. "Our GMs now have four years of data. They can measure what P.K. Subban did in his OHL draft year and compare data to today's young players.
"Guys who tested the highest as young players in areas like speed and agility are the same ones about to go at the top of this year's NHL draft, like Nathan MacKinnon," Birch added. "Also, players are getting serious about taking their test results to a strength and conditioning coach or on-ice skill development coach to improve in a particular area."
"I think it's really important for sport development to turn the page and start using data, since every other business is using data," Jamie Hollins said. "We have for a long time in sports looked at stats, like goals and assists, but now we need to use data to analyze and monitor our athletes."