Mike Blasquez: Assessing Zone7’s Offering and Overcoming AI Misconceptions

Mike Blasquez, Assistant Athletics Director at UC Berkeley, joins Zone7 CEO Tal Brown and experienced Sports Science Consultant Jo Clubb on the Zone7 Performance Podcast

The California Golden Bears Football team has got 115 student athletes, ten different position groups, ten different position coaches and performance staff. 

It’s a complex environment. They’ve got kids that play a lot, and they’ve got kids that don’t play much. 

For Mike Blasquez, Assistant Athletics Director at UC Berkeley, it is imperative for him to be able to get a snapshot of these athletes’ performance data so as to make informed decisions to manage their workloads. 

In the most recent episode of the Zone7 Performance Podcast, Blasquez joined Zone7 CEO Tal Brown and experienced Sports Science Consultant Jo Clubb to discuss everything from interpreting risk and what drives it, to the data science process of converting what was predominantly a soccer-based system previously for the demands of College Football. 

However, in this post, we are going to first dive in deeper to the trio as they discuss Blasquez’s initial contact with Zone7 and the misconceptions he had held about AI. The conversation also opens up to Brown discussing Zone7’s approach more broadly when working with practitioners and the steps the company takes to be adopted within new environments. 

Jo Clubb: So, Mike. Actually applying data correctly, whatever that data is, is key. How did you assess Zone7 as providers and what they were offering to you?

Mike Blasquez: We’re constantly evaluating ourselves and trying to find ways to be better at what we do. For me, in an administrative setting, my role is to know the people I’m working with and provide them the resources that will help them to be better at doing their jobs. 

We know that we’ve got to be great at developing our athletes, great at physical preparation and great at physical development. It’s a pillar for us. Early on, as we were exposed to maybe some of the newer technologies in and around AI, it was really about exploring it to see if this would help us to create a more optimal environment for prepping our athletes and also, obviously, keeping them healthy and keeping them on the field. 

One, we have to be good at developing them, and two, we’ve got to get the horses to the race and they’ve got to be able to perform. And so for us, it was about seeking out better and more efficient ways to do that. 

I think when Zach came in with us, he brought this whole new skill set, and it was kind of in tandem.

We had already been up and going with Zone seven talent, and we’re already grinding away in the space. And Zack kind of came on, he brought  a new level of understanding and method to our approach, especially on the technical and science level. For us, it was, how can we create more efficiencies and then even some redundancies? I think that’s where we initially jumped in with this and kind of where we are now.

Jo Clubb: Did you or any of your staff have any misconceptions about AI, or what Zone7 was going to do?

Mike Blasquez: I did not understand it. I had no idea how it would work. And so for me personally, it was jumping in and trying to become educated. And of course, we’ve all heard about AI, but understanding it in our space and its potential was all new to me. So I kind of went into it not really understanding it, and then working closely with Tal,  who was able to answer the tough questions and get me up to speed with how that system functions and works, I think for me personally was really the key. 

But I will tell you that when Zach came in with his knowledge and background in sport science, he’s asking questions that I don’t even understand. I’ve just been utterly impressed with Tal and Eyal and their ability to be willing to have the conversation and sit down and get the questions answered and work through the details of really creating credibility with each other in the system. 

Jo Clubb: I’m sure that’s the same spot that many of the practitioners or people listening to this will be in, they will be uncertain. There will be things they won’t know. So, Tal, with all that in mind, as the provider, what would you recommend? 

Tal Brown: I think the mindset for us as a vendor is that we’re here to support, if we can, expert operators. The key thing is for them to find efficiencies. Now those efficiencies are sometimes around, we can do this thing a little bit faster, or we could be a little bit more accurate or eliminate some blind spots that vary from environment to environment. 

But we always approach this with an approach of how can this tool help the process that’s ongoing? And so, we basically try and create a process where and also, sorry, before that we recognise this is a complex space and it’s a space that as a vendor you have to prove yourself. You have to prove that this is legit, that this is accurate, that there’s real science behind it, or data science in our case. And so, we have a process that has a couple of components in it to build that trust. 

The first thing we typically do is to say – how do we know this algorithm would perform well in this environment? So that’s something to ask the vendor, right? Can you show us how this would work? Can we do some sort of an open study or open analysis to build trust in this? 

We call this a retrospective analysis. You can think about it as a historical data audit. We kind of create an algorithm for the client and we process historical data and we show them – here’s everything that we saw over the last two or three years in your data, and let’s look at those cases one by one and let’s look at those cases in aggregate. And then we apply a statistical method to look at how accurate this is. Essentially, it’s about building trust in the science. 

But that’s not enough, because around it you have to create a situation where the vendor provides ways to interact with the technology that are useful. 

What do they need to see? It’s clearly not the same as other sports we’ve been active in. It needs to be adapted to it. And it’s not just meters and yards, it’s much, much deeper. It’s about positional groups and it’s about how you train them and how you practice and what happens in pre-season and post-season and in-season. We went through this really interesting process where the content itself had to be molded and reshaped and there’s no other way of doing that other than transparency and openness. You are kind of baking together and you can’t do that unless there’s a good degree of trust.

If you’re interested in hearing more of this conversation, the full podcast is available on all the major podcast platforms, just search ‘Zone7 Performance Podcast’ or click here or you can watch on YouTube, here.

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