Forget the stereotype of the dumb jock: whether it’s learning how to market themselves or taking better care of their bodies, athletes are becoming increasingly savvy. In particular, today’s athletes know that physical ability is just one part of the game and that mental training is now a key way to keep their skills sharp and boost their game. New startup HeadTrainer is looking to make that brain training part of an athlete’s life from day one.
HeadTrainer, based in North Carolina, launched a brain training app earlier this year with a number of high profile athletes, including tennis player Caroline Wozniacki, Women’s World Cup winner Alex Morgan, and NFL player Richard Sherman, as ambassadors.
The app is designed to help athletes of all ages and skill levels improve their cognitive abilities; that is, their decision making, processing speed, focus and concentration, memory, and visual-spatial awareness. It does so through a number of sports-related games designed to mirror real-world situations as closely as possible, with the athlete ambassadors often popping up in videos to offer players encouragement, instructions, and congratulations. The app is free to download, and offers a monthly subscription at $4.99 to unlock a wider training program.
HeadTrainer was created by Hank Durschlag, an entrepreneur with a background in healthcare and sports. Durschlag was aware of the idea of neuroplasticity and different brain training methods, but thought they were missing an opportunity to reach kids who participate in sports and who could benefit from cognitive fitness.
Jon Pritchett, senior VP of sales and marketing for HeadTrainer, explained that the app was developed in partnership with the Duke Sports Science Institute.
“The app was designed with a long term approach in mind. For example, there is a sophisticated ‘back end’ that is designed to capture significant amounts of data that can be used to determine training progress across any exercise, age group, etc. which can be leveraged for ongoing app improvements,” Pritchett said.
“A key aspect of the development also included algorithms and a scoring approach to align as closely as possible to the known science about the various areas of the brain and training approaches.”
Though only a month old, HeadTrainer has already seen publicity in big sports media outlets like ESPN thanks to its high-profile ambassadors. However, the startup didn’t simply approach the biggest names in sports; Pritchett said HeadTrainer had a very specific set of parameters for choosing the athletes.
“First, they needed to be among the best in their respective fields in order to command respect for their athletic performance at the highest level. It was also important that each athlete be highly respected, known as intelligent and articulate leaders. Finally, the athletes needed to believe strongly in the benefits of training ‘above the shoulders’ in an effort to enhance performance for themselves and, most importantly, for young athletes.”
Interestingly, the startup has given each of the athletes equity in the company in exchange for their endorsement.
“We believe strongly that the best and most authentic endorsers are those who are owners and shareholders with a common interest in seeing the company succeed,” Pritchett said.
“We believe aligning endorsers with investors, shareholders and management on economic terms is the right strategy when you’re creating or building a business. Today’s star athlete is sophisticated and usually well-represented. Sharing a piece of the equity is attractive for both parties.”
Indeed, a rising number of athletes are going the Ashton Kutcher route and investing their earnings in startups; Indian cricketer Yuvraj Singh even set up his own investment firm.
If it’s eventually looking to conquer the general brain training app market, HeadTrainer will face significant competition from apps such as the now well-established Lumosity. While Pritchett said there’s no reason why the app couldn’t appeal to a wider audience, the focus is on sports.
“We are currently exploring partnerships with a number of sports organizations at the youth, high school, college and professional level. Because we are not tied to one particular sport, there are virtually no limits in this regard,” he said.
With HeadTrainer’s current ambassadors covering the North American market, the startup is looking to target new athletes across international sports to satisfy the users the app has amassed in over 60 countries. According to Pritchett, an English Premier League footballer and a cricketer may be next to join the team.
Image: HeadTrainer ambassador Alex Morgan. Source: HeadTrainer.