When the Golden State Warriors’ head of sports medicine, Chelsea Lane, first approached assistant general manager Kirk Lacob in the front office with a new device last summer, she explained that Eye-Sync would help the team quickly and objectively assess whether a player might be suffering from concussion symptoms. The Warriors had endured a few instances in recent playoffs when they weren’t sure of a player’s readiness and were always looking to improve upon the NBA’s defined protocol for evaluation.
Lane later returned with an Eye-Sync device sent along for trial purposes by SyncThink, the brainchild of Stanford neurosurgeon Dr. Jamshid Ghajar, which gained FDA clearance in 2016 to detect and identify impairment through a 60-second eye-tracking assessment in a virtual reality headset. This time, Lacob recalled, Lane explained that the device also had the ability to monitor player fatigue.
“In our initial conversations we’ve had with a lot of teams, everyone has focused on the c-word, and so that’s where it gets a lot of attention and gets a lot of press,” SyncThink’s chief customer officer, Scott Anderson, said, referring to concussions. “I honestly, personally believe that the long-term value of how teams will use this is as a proactive player management tool.”
“Honestly, I personally feel — and you can take this for what it’s worth — that concussion is going to be a very small market for us in the long run,” he added.
While the Warriors have used the device for evaluating players who have suffered blows to the head — and Lacob said the device has already succeeded in detecting an impairment before concussion symptoms arrived — the organization has implemented regular screenings for fatigue as well. Lacob said the plan is to check players about every 20 games for signs of accumulated fatigue that might warrant additional rest.
Lacob asked Lane to reach out only if there were any red flags in the Eye-Sync assessments, and there haven’t been to date but said he’d ask for a more detailed report soon as the regular season winds down.
“That’ll help us understand what we need to do to reduce stress and fatigue on players over the last month, and that could affect our ability to push forward or scale back a little bit because our ultimate goal is to be fresh for the playoffs,” Lacob said.
Anderson led Stanford’s sports medicine program for a decade and consults to the NFL. His role with SyncThink includes some direct work with the Warriors.
“The organization is very cutting-edge and very first-class in everything that they do, as most people know, but I think in terms of how they manage their players, it’s on another level,” Anderson said. “It’s very influential to the rest of the league. I think that they are using it in novel ways, not just for clinical reasons, but to continuously and proactively monitor the players. I think that’s another approach to how our technology can be valuable. I say that specifically around fatigue. Fatigue is the holy grail in the NBA, so to speak, in my opinion.”
For now, Lacob said the fatigue monitoring is more of an “added bonus” compared to the head trauma evaluations but described its potential as “very valuable — we’re still learning.” A few Warriors front office members underwent the screening as well. Lacob said there are two tests tracking a red dot around in various patterns. He added that the device also would be helpful for assessing staff members who often endure their own high levels of stress and exhaustion throughout the season.
Eye-Sync’s technology is buttressed by more than 40 articles of published research spanning 15 years of clinical studies, showing that a variety of impairments — including early onset dementia, ADHD and drug use, Anderson said — have a corresponding eye movement.
While a wearable device can log workload volume and intensity — and the Warriors are known to use Catapult — the medical staff is still reliant on a subjective measure (i.e., the player’s self-reporting) to determine the next day’s readiness. Eye-Sync offers a more objective determination, Anderson said.
“Well, what our technology is doing,” he said, “is measuring that and saying, ‘Oh yeah, they’ve improved.’ Or ‘they’re back in a normal range where their eye signatures have been minimized into a range that tells us that the brain is optimized for performance now and that the effect of fatigue is no longer there.’”