February 9, 2006 4:00 AM PST

Think you got game? These tests will tell

Are you an undiscovered athletic marvel, with the agility and foot speed of Serena Williams or the concentration of Tiger Woods?

If you've ever pondered which Olympic gold medalist you could have been, one Silicon Valley technology company wants to help solve the mystery.

Sports Potential, in Palo Alto, Calif., has developed a series of tests and sophisticated software to calculate an individual's aptitude for a wide range of sports--from baseball to bobsledding. After a two-hour test, the company's Web-based software can illustrate a subject's physical traits, such as body composition, power, speed, agility and endurance, and compare the results with people in the same age group.

The software then matches those findings with recommended sports, based on the qualities of elite athletes in those sports. It can also give individualized pointers for how to train for tennis, for example, if someone is a big tennis fan without the natural-born traits to be good at it.

"If you didn't have the hand-eye coordination for baseball, basketball or football--all sports that kids in the United States are commonly introduced to--you'd think you were a klutz. But it's just that you haven't found the right sport yet," said Steve Spinner, founder and CEO of Sports Potential.

The program, called Sports Potential Assessment (SPA), was introduced last summer for anyone age 13 or older, and it's beginning to show up in athletic clubs and clinics around the country.

Click for images

But the best niche for this service may be with sports-obsessive parents. In April, the company will introduce a service for children 8 to 12 years old at recreational centers, schools and summer camps. The program can assess whether a child is cognitively and physically prepared for up to 38 sports and includes coaching tips online for how to prepare for each. Results of the test flow into a child-focused site, which kids can interact with and use to keep records, and another site for parents, which outlines a child's strengths and areas for improvement.

The mind-body-Bradley connection
Spinner himself always wanted to stay fit in order to best his family's genetic tendency toward obesity (his parents died of the disease). A finisher of an Ironman triathlon, which combines a marathon with a 100-mile bike ride and a 2.4-mile swim, he found his talent for running by luck and a dare from a high school running coach, who spotted his speed on the soccer field.

Sports Potential's best-known backer is Bill Bradley, former senator, one-time presidential candidate, Olympic gold medalist and star basketball player.

In a stroke of luck, Bradley and Spinner were traveling on the same plane from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco following the Thanksgiving weekend in 2002. Spinner wrote Bradley a note, pitching the Sports Potential concept and inviting him to visit seat 17B in the coach section of the plane. Two hours later, Bradley came out of first class and visited him under the watchful eye of surrounding passengers.

Within two months, Bradley had invested in the company and joined as chairman of its advisory committee. Sports Potential has raised $4.5 million from individuals, companies and venture firms, including Bradley's Allen & Co, Thomas Weisel Venture Partners, Siebel Systems and CNET Networks, publisher of News.com.

Marketing Sports Potential's service may have its challenges. Dan McDonough, fitness director of the Pacific Athletic Club in Redwood City, Calif., said his club's trainers tested the service and used it briefly six months ago, but it didn't catch on.

One reason was cost.

CONTINUED: Worth the money?…
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Got Game item - recipe for disaster!
Give a tool such as this to 'ambitious' parents and more Little League Warfare will break out!

Parents will test their (suffering) offspring for sport suitability with one of two outcomes:

the 'natural couch potatoes' (yes - not every kid can be a star!) will then become disappointing. Do you REALLY want fat and malco kids to add poor self-image to their other limitations?

alternatively, the kid DOES match the parameters for (say) beach volley ball but has NO wish to take up this particular sport. So - more warfare between parents and kid.

Bad idea!
Posted by john_g_brooks (3 comments )
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let me guess you were either

A: the natural couch potato


B: no good at sports growing up?
Posted by reedsr (37 comments )
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More possible outcomes
3. A child that is rated at only 'moderately' inept to sports makes it a point to practice as much as possible to overcome what they've been told is their genetic flaw. Regardless of what their parents or peers say.

4. Children realize a little ealier that their fantasy of becoming a pro athlete probably is unattainable, and focus on education as our children generally should.

5. Parents realize their children aren't these natural star athletes they imagine, and do use the results to help the child focus their atheletic development in areas and manners that appropriate for the individual child as opposed to our school's P.E. teachers making every kid attempt the same exercise routines.

I agree first impression is that parents are too concerned about figuring out what their child 'should do in life' and forcing them that direction. But this machine is hardly the 'recipe for disaster'. Obviously the test 'results' from children must be portrayed as only a current assessment and that as children grow into their bodies coordination and athletic ability can continue to develop, or regress.
Posted by grantdavis (15 comments )
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