The 1% Podcast

Stephen Smith Kitman Labs

  • 01

    Stephen Smith

    CEO & founder of Kitman Labs Lincoln Recruitment Specialists


My guest today is Stephen Smith Founder and CEO of Kitman Labs.

Kitman Labs are an Irish sports science and data analytics company. Through advanced statistical analysis, rigorous scientific research their system evaluates athlete injury and performance with unprecedented precision.

Kitman Labs works with over 150 teams worldwide including Irish provincial rugby teams Leinster and Connacht, along with soccer teams such as AS Roma, Everton and Norwich City, all under the watchful eye of founder and CEO Stephen Smith.

Kitman, which has offices in Dublin, Silicon Valley and Sydney, was named on Fast Company’s prestigious annual list of the world’s most innovative companies in 2019.




Show Summary


2:37 Stephen’s early life

  • Stephen’s early interest in sports as a science
  • His introduction to sports medicine

4:17 Injury and rehabilitation

  • Our lack of understanding of injury
  • The minimal use of science in the industry
  • His work as injury rehabilitation coach for Leinster Rugby
  • The changes seen over the years at Leinster
  • Coach Michael Cheikar and his desire for detailed information

8:38 Initial research

  • Founding a sports science department at Leinster
  • What it means to build a « digital landscape » around an athlete
  • The overwhelming amount of information that is now available through innovative technologies

10:57 From rehab to prevention

  • « Injuries are something that we will never eradicate from sport »
  • The importance of building resilience in athletes, minimizing the impact of injuries and lengthening careers

12:07 Technology and coaching

  • Why technology can’t replace coaching: “Technology is there to augment coaching”
  • The defining characteristics of great coaches
  • The dangerous consequences of rolling subs, AFL and unlimited substitutions

15:48 Myths and outdated ideas about the causes and risks of injury

  • Why rates of repeated similar injuries were higher in the past
  • How technology, data and analytics help identify more risk factors

17:12 Stephen’s focus on technology

  • His desire to deeply understand things: “I am a real science nerd”

19:52 Kitman Labs’ work

  • Data and activity collection explained
  • What Kitman Lab does : merge large quantities of data to find patterns
  • The recent technological wave that led to the rise of athlete management systems
  • The limits of these tools: a lack of interpretation or knowledge of how to use this information

22:54 Key indicators and how to use them

  • How an athlete’s style of play, background and personal history affects training decisions: there is no one formula for one sport
  • The importance of being able to change when athletes and teams inevitably change
  • Observing when an athlete doesn’t fit a team’s style of play
  • How data and analytics products have been used for recruiting

27:26 Kitman Labs’ early days

  • The challenges that come with founding a company
  • Their first employee: sports scientist Stuart O’Brien
  • Why employees need to be able to grow and change with the company
  • A big step: acquiring The Sports Office, one of their biggest competitors
  • How their approaches were complementary
  • An essential skill to growing a business: having the drive to continue working doggedly towards a goal – “You just got to dig in”
  • How to deal with the ups and downs of business

33:30 Lessons learned about building teams

  • Why skill and talent aren’t the only factors to look for when choosing employees
  • The importance of team members believing in the vision
  • The early supporters of Kitman Labs

38:12 Rethinking and reinventing

  • How Kitman had to reconsider traditional ways of working and thinking
  • How Leinster has reinvented themselves
  • The importance of constantly questioning yourself

40:13 Kitman Labs’ early success

  • Stephen’s knowledge or lack thereof when he first started Kitman
  • His wife’s role in the early days of the company
  • The key: finding great people
  • The challenge: turning data into insight
  • How they turned doubters into allies

44:19 Training and performance planning

  • The challenge of player specialization in elite sports
  • The multiple factors taken into consideration when devising a training plan

46:02 Health and nutrition

  • How technology helps nutritionists like Daniel Davey
  • Electronic medical records and the evolution of the industry
  • Why a class action lawsuit suing the NFL for concussions was successful
  • The powerful insights of the new upgraded “intelligent” medical records

51:07 Sensor technology

  • The new possibilities created by sensor cameras, smart footwear and ingestible sensors

54:00 Player retirement

  • Examples of retired players experiencing pain and mobility issues
  • Taking on the responsibility of managing players better during their career: “You shouldn’t have to give up your life for a sport”

57:22 Artificial intelligence

  • Why AI won’t replace referees anytime soon

58:27 Democratizing technology

  • What scaling up looks like at Kitman Labs
  • How their technology can help at all levels of sport

1:00:34 Kids and monitoring

  • Balancing the joy of playing a sport with injury prevention

1:02:34 Investment in Kitman Labs

  • Why John Malloy invested in Kitman Labs
  • The universal appeal of having access to merged personal data being collected by phones
  • Breaking into the US market
  • Kitman Labs’ great publicity despite not investing in PR

1:07:10 The impact of Kitman Labs on training

  • How Kitman Labs helps push athletes harder

1:08:14 Innovation

  • Why innovation is a necessity in this space

1:09:18 Values

  • Being a respected member of the community
  • Thought leadership
  • One Team: “We’re all in this together”
  • Being research-driven

1:11:10 Competition

  • Why approaching this from a business perspective hasn’t worked
  • The advantages of small companies and the disadvantages of large ones

1:12:37 Acquisition of The Sports Office

  • How this acquisition will benefit Kitman and make its resources more available: “It’s about trickling that down so that everybody can harness it”

1:14:26 Beyond sports

  • Kitman’s discussions with military and defense, insurance companies and corporate health
  • How the research can apply to many fields

1:15:37 Sports broadcasting

  • How Kitman’s research can help engage fans better through storytelling

1:16:30 The future of sports performance technology

Stephen’s predictions:

  • Rapid growth
  • Technology as lifeblood of sports performance
  • Moving into the “age of performance intelligence”

1:17:07 Rapid-fire questions

  • Alternative career choice: Wine maker
  • Current curiosity: The science behind growing at scale
  • Most influential book: “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World” by David Epstein
  • Best advice: Never give up