Bigger isn’t necessarily better. Coming out of college, I thought I needed to work for a big company, a big team, a big outlet, but as I progress throughout my career, I’ve found it more rewarding to work for a small company. In a small company, you personally can make a much bigger impact on the culture, performance, and success of the company.
New technologies have changed the way we engage in and watch sports. Sensors, Wearable Tech, Video Assistant Referees (VAR), and Instant Replay, are examples of new technologies that have changed the way we play and watch sports. In this interview series called, “The Future of Sports; New Emerging Technologies That Are Disrupting The World Of Sports,” we are talking to sports leaders, athletes, sports tech experts, and sports equipment companies who can talk about the new technologies that are reshaping the sports world.
As a part of this interview, we had the pleasure of interviewing Zack Strock.
Zack Strock is a young, emerging sports technology professional. Strock started his career in the sports tech industry with STATS, LLC as a Data Quality Analyst while earning his master’s degree from Northwestern University. After his time at STATS, Strock joined Catapult Sports as the wearable tech lead for their US-based clients, working with high profile professional and college teams. Strock has since joined the Vizual Edge team as the Business Operations Manager, where he is responsible for the day-to-day operations across the business, handling client on-boarding, marketing, and managing the customer support team. Working closely with Vizual Edge’s flagship product, the Edge Trainer, Strock analyzes and implements performance-based vision training programs for elite and youth athletes.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Thanks for having me! My journey in the sports technology space started after my collegiate football career ended. I always had a passion for the athletics space and was naturally curious about the technology and tools that helped improve athletic performance, so I pursued my Master’s Degree in Sports Administration with a concentration in Analytics from Northwestern University. During my time at Northwestern, I worked at STATS LLC, as a part of the SportVu team, which did all the optical tracking for the NBA. From there I was hired at Catapult Sports working with Strength & Conditioning coaches on managing the workload of athletes through wearable technology. Currently I work with Vizual Edge, developing training plans to help enhance the visual and cognitive skills of athletes to improve athletic performance. My journey across the sports technology landscape with different products and goals has helped me develop a wealth of knowledge that provides unmatched insights in the industry.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
One of the most interesting stories I’ve had since beginning my career in the sports technology industry was my time doing live player tracking using GPS monitors during the NFL Pro Bowl. Being able to operate and work among the best NFL players and staffs was such a unique and rewarding experience that holds a special place in my career journey. It was also a bonus to get to meet some of my favorite NFL superstars too.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Fail and Move On, Fast.” Coming from an athletics background you learn that every play won’t be perfect. The key is to be able to put that play behind and you and learn from your mistakes. In the sports technology space, everything may not go as you planned, but it’s important to learn from that experience and not make the same mistake twice.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My dad has always had a big impact on my life. He started his own construction company and that was one of the first jobs I had growing up. I would work with him and my brother, who now runs the business since my dad’s passing. I learned the value of putting pride into your work. If you don’t have the pride and work ethic while working for your family, you’ll never have it.
Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I recently read Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey and it has really resonated with me since. The whole idea of creating our own greenlights is very impactful. By starting to take responsibility today, you can create freedom and those greenlights for tomorrow. Whether you are sacrificing some free time to get some extra work done on the job or choosing to help or choosing to help a friend move rather than going out these sacrifices can lead to more greenlights in the future.
You are a successful business leader. Which three-character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Accountability: This one dates back to my football playing days. You can’t be a successful team with finger-pointing going around. Each player must be accountable for their performance to create a cohesive unit. When you are accountable for your performance, you start to garner the respect of others and that accountability spreads throughout your organization.
- Decisiveness: Make a decision and stick to it. If the decision is wrong, that’s still a more valuable lesson than going back and forth between options. Being decisive also instills confidence in your team. If you act with confidence, it will instill confidence in others.
- Empathy: Being empathetic allows you to relate with your team and grow a bond outside of the workplace or playing field. Knowing that your coworkers or teammates care about you outside of the workplace will make you work/play twice as hard for them. During a trying time in my life my current boss was extremely empathetic towards my situation, and it’s made our relationship in the workplace even better.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’ve used my success to bring goodness into the world by utilizing my organizational skills to help plan fundraising events. Over the past two years, my siblings and I have raised over 35k dollars for the ALS Association of the Greater Chicago Area. Our mother passed away from ALS and it was devastating to us all. Since then, we make sure to honor her by putting together a fundraising effort in which we gather our family and friends in a day of remembrance to walk together and celebrate the life of my mother while raising funds for families affected by ALS.
Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about the sports technologies that most excite you at the moment? Can you explain why you are passionate about it?
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the work, we are doing at Vizual Edge. Here at Vizual Edge we are doing some amazing work with athletes from across a variety of different sports. We have a long history of working with MLB Scouting departments to help evaluate and analyze the visual strengths and weaknesses of potential draft picks. We’ve also grown in the NHL where we work with more than 10 teams and their goalies to help train their visual and neurocognitive skills to improve performance on the ice. The great thing about Vizual Edge is how easily accessible it is. This is a player development program that youth, college, and professionals use from the comfort of their own home using a tablet or computer.
I’m working on another product that we’ll be announcing in the coming months, but it will be a great resource for athletes and teams looking to test and improve their knowledge of their team’s playbook and concepts.
How do you think this might change the world of sports?
Traditional types of training like weightlifting or conditioning are vital for athlete performance and player development, but people often neglect their visual skills. Your visual skills can be improved and strengthened just like your body can. Vision training is a method of teaching the eyes and the brain how to perform a skill more efficiently. People only often think of sight as a measurement of 2020, 20/40, etc. Vision is different from sight. Vision is how your brain uses sight.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
When it comes to athlete data there will always be the debate on who owns that data. Does it belong to the athlete, team, or the technology provider? I believe this debate will continue to evolve with athletes pushing back on using different technology. There needs to be a compromise on what is shared and with who.
What are the 3 things that concern you about the sports industry today? Can you explain? What can be done to address or correct those concerns?
Decline in sports participation. I worry about the alternative options the younger generations have outside of athletics, as well as the concern in safety for sports like football. I think you can address the concerns with fun and engaging ways to promote participation. Can you utilize the growing intrigue with esports and social media in youth leagues? I believe so. As for the safety in football, I believe the game will continue to evolve with safer equipment and more standard rules for contact or lack of contact at the youth leagues. I think the biggest thing right now in youth football is to limit the amount of hits, so maybe until the age of 11–12 you learn the fundamentals and strategy while playing flag or 2-hand touch. Then elevate to full pads with a more well-rounded game.
Elevating gameday experiences. We all saw how the landscape of live sports changes last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Professional and college sports had to adjust attendances or switch to a bubble-like experience. We are seeing a trend in contactless ordering, which can be great, but also difficult on the fulfillment side as people will utilize both traditional and contactless ordering methods. I think there needs to be a blend of both traditional and elevated gameday experiences. I don’t want to take away the traditional feel of a ballpark, but I also don’t want to sit in an uncomfortable seat for 3+ hours with a bad view.
The role of the NCAA going forward. We’ve seen the changes in collegiate athletics over the last couple of months with NIL and potential conference realignment. Where does the NCAA as a governing body fit in? At the highest levels of football and basketball, I believe we are trending away from the traditional system with the NCAA in charge. I imagine the top 50 NCAA football teams will start to govern themselves similar to having their own league, rather than operating within the NCAA. It’ll be interesting to see how this affects other collegiate athletics when it comes to funding and booster efforts.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Bigger isn’t necessarily better. Coming out of college, I thought I needed to work for a big company, a big team, a big outlet, but as I progress throughout my career, I’ve found it more rewarding to work for a small company. In a small company, you personally can make a much bigger impact on the culture, performance, and success of the company.
- You know more than you think. As a young professional there were times, I was timid to speak up or get my point across when dealing with my coworkers. I soon realized that I was brought in for a reason. Even if your idea isn’t something your company runs with, it can spark a conversation that leads to an idea that is used.
- Diversify outside your department. It is easy to pigeon-hole yourself. Just because you’re in one department, doesn’t mean you can’t get involved in other departments. At a previous job, I would spend time getting to know what other departments were up to and volunteer to help with projects. This led me to growing my relationship with a different department head, who would eventually offer me my current job at a different company.
- Do the grunt work and keep doing it. The best way to provide value is to do the work others don’t want to do. There will always be a role for those who go above and beyond.
- If you don’t ask, then the answer is always no. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions. Ask for that raise or ask for more growth opportunities. If they do say no, then you have that information and can pivot from there.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’d inspire the “Take a deep breath,” movement. In today’s world, everyone is so bothered by social media. Don’t let other people’s posts affect your mood. Take a deep breath and move on instead of responding. Everyone is looking for a response to trigger a debate. If you allow it to bother you, it will.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I’d like to have dinner with Mark Cuban. I’d like to talk to him about his passion for sports and technology. I’d throw a couple of pitches his way and if nothing worked, I’d enjoy just talking to him about Luka and the future of the Mavs.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for these excellent stories and insights. We wish you continued success on your great work!