Five minutes with…. Jamie Tout

VX Sport are a global success story in the world of wearables. Their Sport Performance Director talked to us about how the merging of tech and data is changing sport.

Jamie Tout is the Sport Performance Director at VX Sport – a leading light in New Zealand’s wearable tech industry. Their devices are already used by the All Blacks, the New Zealand Defence Force, throughout US College sports programs, and across the Red Bull Signature Series of events. We talked to Jamie about his experience, the company, and why they’re involved in this year’s C-Prize.

You’ve been a strength and conditioning coach for almost 20 years, and now work with the Black Ferns. What prompted your expansion from coaching to developing technology?

I’ve always had a fascination with technology, could be considered an ’early adopter’. Anything new that came to market, I’d give it a go! My relationship with VX Sport came about when I met the founder Richard Snow. As an engineer, he had developed a variety of technologies, but he approached High Performance Sport NZ because he wanted to understand how sports and conditioning coaches could apply technology to sport.

Richard and I have very similar characteristics in terms of drive and work ethic, but very different in terms of our skill sets. And its this combination of his ‘tech talk’ and my ‘sports speak’ that makes us unique.

How does NZ compare with other countries when it comes to wearables?

I’d say we do very well – we have world-class performers right across the sports spectrum, and that’s at least partly a by-product of innovation. Although NZ is geographically isolated, it’s what makes us innovative. We have limited exposure to the trends coming out of Europe or the US, so that means we lack any preconceived ideas about what’s ‘normal’, which lets us go out and do things differently.

The other advantage that we have here is our relatively ‘open door’ policy here. You can contact the Hurricanes or the Highlanders or the Pulse netball team, and find yourself sitting down with the lead conditioning coach, or the head coach, very quickly.

Why are VX Sport supporting the C-Prize?

I think both Richard and myself see this as a fantastic mentoring opportunity – a way to share our experiences with others. With his engineering background, he can discuss the technical reasons why something may or may not work, or identify what's been done before. From my point of view, I’m interested in it on an application level – how is this really going to benefit your end user, whether that's in education or medicine or military or sports? No matter what, you don't want a solution for a problem that doesn't exist.

What are the pitfalls that a young start-up might face in this industry?

I think the main one is that they often try to satisfy everyone. To a degree, we are still very customer-driven – any changes we make to our hardware or software come from customer feedback. But when you start out, taking all feedback or advice on board usually means you get pulled in different directions, and get nothing done.

So, I’d say refine your focus, and stick to the things that you're good at. Be willing to take on advice and be told no, but also be willing to ignore some advice and follow others. Do your homework - there's already lots of people out there with great ideas and as your product evolves, you might find others with complementary mindsets to yours. One of our mantras is that we integrate rather than isolate, and I’d definitely recommend that approach.

What’s next in sports wearables?

First off, I think we need a reality check on what’s realistic, or even desirable for wearables. Through technology, we’ve become very good at measuring stuff, but if we don’t use it properly, it can become clutter. I think with any new device, it’s not how sexy it looks, or how many functions it has, but what the output is. What’s the simplest thing we can do to enact the biggest change?

For me, the ‘next big thing’ is artificial intelligence. How do we take data sets and look for trends, and how does one dataset affect another? So, for example, does the physical data affect the technical tactical data in sport? When you start combining datasets in a meaningful way, you can learn a massive amount.