“It’s like a coach built into the ball,” said Mike Crowley, CEO of Infomotion Sports Technologies, manufacturer of the 94Fifty Smart Sensor Basketball.
Crowley and his technology team have designed a state-of-the-art, training basketball that provides real-time feedback on your shooting arc, your shot’s backspin, your catch-and-shoot time, and your dribbling speed and consistency. With nine sensors inside this smart ball, instantaneous feedback is provided to your iPhone or iPod via Bluetooth technology. The 94Fifty name is derived from the dimensions of a basketball court.
Infomotion Sports Technologies has incorporated two methodologies from the business world into its ball: 1.) Examine the best practices of great basketball players, and 2.) Track key performance indicators to measure progress and success.
For basketball shooting best practices, they looked at hundreds of the best shooters in the game. Their studies revealed that the best shooters shot an ideal arc of 42 – 48 degrees, with 130 – 150 backspin revolutions and got their shots off in .75 seconds or less. These become the goals. Players of any skill level can be quickly tested on their shot, and then continue to be tested as they practice and improve their skills. The 94Fifty provides an objective measurement tool. You don’t have to take your high school coach’s word for it that your shot is flat, the 94fifty will tell you and show you immediately.
The ball comes with a charging pad and a carrying bag. Set up for the 94Fifty is painless. In preparation for my first test, I placed the ball as directed on the charging pad and left it there overnight. I downloaded the free 94Fifty ap to my iPhone and explored the interface a bit. You have a chance to name your ball – I called mine Dr. J – and you enter your height (presumably so a sensor can determine the arc starting point). There are some 50 drills to choose from and 4 competitive levels.
Watch the 94Fifty promotional video
For my first court test, I took “Dr. J” to my local YMCA. By bouncing the ball 4 times, the 94fifty ap recognized the ball, and just like that I was in business. The first thing I noticed: it felt exactly like a regular basketball despite having the sensors inside. Determined to test my shooting arc first, I launched my first shot from 15 feet (the free throw line distance to the basket). A 38 degree score was recorded, with some encouragement coming from the ap to raise my arc. I proceeded to shoot another 9 shots. With an onscreen tap, I received my average arc score and a visual graph as to how each shot’s arc was recorded. While my arc range was ok – 38 – 44 degrees – only one of my shots was in the ideal range of 42 – 48 degrees. When my 44 degree shot was recorded, the ap told me, “That was pure.” Still, my takeaway on my shooting arc: must use legs more when I shoot.
Testing catch-and-shoot time by yourself with the 94Fifty is accomplished by tossing the ball up a few feet to yourself, catching the ball, and then shooting. As a player who really likes to line up his target, getting a shot off in 3/4’s of a second is a challenge for me. I tended to take about .9 seconds. I fared no better on the results of my shot’s backspin, scoring well below the minimum range of ideal (130 degrees). You can test catch and shoot time at the same time as you’re testing your arc. Your shooting arc might go down when you’re trying to get your shot off in a hurry — mine did.
In my years of playing basketball, I had never had my arc, my shot revolutions or my catch-and-shoot time measured. This was pretty cool! It didn’t take a huge leap of faith to see how this could become a valuable training tool.
On to ball handling.
“The combination of ball handling skills and player’s height is a 95% indicator as to how high a level of basketball a player will progress to,” according to Crowley based on proprietary data the company has collected. Crowley thinks that many youth players falsely believe that, “if I shoot, I can score; and if I can score, I can play.” I tracked my number of power dribbles in 20 seconds and also compared my dominant right hand to my weaker left hand. Consecutive dribbles and speed of dribbling can be tracked on more challenging assignments like behind-the-back dribbles. As with my shooting, there were many areas of improvement I identified and I again saw how the 94Fifty could help with my ball handling.
For my second court test, I took Dr. J. to my nephew’s 7th grade team practice. Setting up a 94Fifty station at one hoop, assistant coach John and I worked with 2-3 players at a time for about 5 minutes with each small group. We focused on shooting drills and primarily tested arc and catch-and-shoot time.
The value the 94Fifty can bring to a team is impressive. It’s been my experience from coaching that younger players, as a whole, tend to shoot flat shots. My nephew’s team was no exception. Only one player shot higher than the ideal arc and the vast majority shot below the ideal. Having an objective tool like the 94Fifty ball show this to young players raised awareness. When players consistently shot with a low arc, we had them shoot free throw after free throw until a few of their shots fit within the range. Catch-and-shoot time was much easier to assess when having extra people to make the chest pass to the shooters. The coaches of my nephew’s team saw the value of this tool, and equally as important, it kept the players’ interest. The ball, the ap, and the interface were extremely easy to set up and use. The 94fifty delivered as promised.
The ball can purchased at Apple Stores, at 94Fifty.com or at Amazon.com. I found one at the back end of the Apple Store by the Genius Bar. At $299, the ball is not inexpensive. When compared to personal training costs (ranging from $50 – $75 per hour) and the cost for a week-long basketball camp ($375 – $500), the 94Fifty cost seems more reasonable than comparing it to the cost of the last basketball you purchased. Basketball coaches and serious ballers will be all over the 94Fifty. Infomotion Sports Technologies, which funded this product launch via Kickstarter, is busy working on product extensions and taking the same technology to other sports. Think of the possibilities.
When I used the 94Fifty by myself and with a team, it was as one-time tests. The real value is in its continued use. “It’s about sustainable success,” notes Crowley, “We’ve taken knowledge from the best coaches, and we’re trying to make players better by giving them little pieces of success every time they touch the ball.”
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