QuackCon 2016 – Winners Focus On Athletes’ Training, Mental Health

n August, QuackCon 2016, the University of Oregon’s hackathon-make-a-thon hybrid was announced.  Just last month, 149 students from 14 universities across two countries came together to create their sports-technology projects.

From October 14-16, the students worked to develop 25 different projects, and 10 were given prizes and special awards.  There were plenty of fan engagement projects, like LitMit, the Best Fan Engagement Award winning gloves that produce an LED-lighted “O” for the University of Oregon when the wearers’ hands make the same shape.

However, most of the projects were focused on athlete training, including mental health treatment and awareness.  Let’s take a deeper look at some of these:

Training 101

The first place winner, Shadow Trainer, was developed by a quintet of masters’ students to help with pacing during speed training.  For many runners, the keep to improving performance is pacing.  However, much of the pacing feedback runners receive from their wearables is inaccurate because of timing.

Runners can learn to pace using basic techniques.  For the developers of Shadow Trainer, the crux was solving the timing problem when receiving that feedback.  To combat the real-time problem, Shadow Trainer employs a micro-projector worn around the chest and an app for tracking data and making pacing adjustments.  The combo would work together to project a shadow runner ahead of the athlete, marking how fast she needs to run in order to meet a training pace.

Second place winner Shoe Duck/Wing Snaps was developed to protect an athlete’s gear during training.  Centered on the needs of sprinters, Shoe Ducks were built to combat the wear and tear spikes go through during the training process.  The two-piece assembly wraps a spike from forefoot to heel.  Most spike protectors only protect the forefoot; Shoe Ducks would solve this problem, thus cutting down on potential off-the-track injuries to sprinters, who often walk on their heels to protect their expensive equipment.

The winner of QuackCon’s Best Athletic Enhancement award was another training app.  This one, CoachMe, uses predictive analytics to help train basketball players.  In recent years, machine learning has changed the way we do business.  It’s only natural that it has begun to change how we do other things, such as provide healthcare or train athletes.  CoachMe uses machine learning and the shooting drill to predict the probability of making shots.  This will aid in training and practice for problem areas.

Mental Health 101

Today’s athletes are under ever-increasing pressure balance their athletic performances with highly-demanding personal lives.  Mental health issues among athletes are especially high at the collegiate level, where student-athletes must contend with academics, peers, and competition.

QuackCon’s winner for Best Hack Against Online Harassment was an app called Athletic Mental Awareness (AMA).  This app uses a set of questions to help athletes track their mental health on a daily basis.  Because 27 percent of college students live with some form of depression, AMA focuses on tracking the symptoms of this mental disorder.

Once a student-athlete has completed the day’s questions and received a result ranging from Showing Symptoms of Major Depression” to “No Signs of Depression,” the app directs its users to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s treatment referral hotline.  The hotline can pair a student-athlete with a mental health counselor or a school counselor.  Often, the responsibilities of a school counselor can overlap with a mental health or substance abuse counselor, as illustrated in this resource from Wake Forest’s online counseling program.  For student-athletes, this intersection among counseling fields is key to their mental health as they work through the demands on their time.

Another app developed at QuackCon that helps improve athletes’ mental health is Kali.  Designed to make connections among student-athletes, Kali can help diminish a student-athlete’s sense of isolation, thus improving her mental health.

QuackCon 2016’s portfolio runs the gamut from high-tech fabrics to enhanced viewing modules.  The sense of accomplishment taking these products from concept to prototype in one weekend was the overarching sentiment for the production teams.  This was the inaugural QuackCon, and its projects prove that future participants have big shoes to fill.