Measuring athlete performance
Shaun Holthouse loves sport, though he has more aptitude for maths and science than any natural talent on the field.
“I was much more likely to be captain of the chess club than the football team,” he says of his school days in Melbourne’s southeast.
Despite his early lack of athleticism, Holthouse (BE(Hons) 1996) grew up to co-found Catapult, the world’s leading sports analytics company and designer of cutting-edge sports technology.
Athletes from more than 900 elite sports teams now use Catapult’s wearable monitoring devices to measure and track their performance. And Holthouse gets an insider’s look at sporting culture around the world, from the AFL to the NBA.
“It’s like ‘Revenge of the Nerds’,” he says with a laugh. “I get to be involved with all these amazing elite teams.”
Holthouse didn’t jump into sport science when he graduated from the University of Melbourne in 1996. He worked first as an engineer, developing technologies for small but forward-thinking companies. In 2002, he became a development manager for the government’s Cooperative Research Centres microtechnology program and saw potential in a project from the Australian Institute of Sport – a wearable GPS device that used sensors to measure athlete speed, force and other metrics during play.
When the device failed to attract funding through the program, Holthouse and a colleague, Igor van de Griendt, bought it themselves and founded Catapult in 2006. They started selling the OptimEye tracking monitor along with software to interpret the data it provided.
Catapult grew slowly and organically, says Holthouse, with occasional help from government grants. Hawthorn Football Club became the first AFL team to use the technology in 2007. The Hawks were using it when they won the premiership the following year. “They had such an appetite for the things that were going to create an edge for them,” Holthouse says. “They were true early adopters.”
Catapult expanded to other football teams and, eventually, began exporting to the English Premier League. They finally entered the lucrative US market in 2012, becoming the main sports analytics company selling to the NFL and the NBA. “Now we are completely dominant in our space.”
Catapult’s customer base includes the world’s biggest sports teams, from Real Madrid to the Dallas Cowboys. The company listed on the Australian Stock Exchange in 2015, and last year acquired US-based video analytics firm XOS.