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October 15, 2013

Cogsports finds new market for mental toughness tool

Photo/Darren Fishell
Photo/Darren Fishell
Cogsports co-founder Jordan Denning, in the company's office at 59 Middle St., in Portland.

As the sports world turns to data for insights into player performance and strategy, a spinoff of a Portland-based company is looking where other measures can't: inside a player's head.

Cogsports, borne from a psychological assessment tool developed by Walter Corey and used by the Navy SEALs for around 10 years, quietly launched around a year ago with a computer-based test adapted for sports applications.

The company, co-founded by Corey and Jordan Denning, offers the testing service and a range of associated leadership trainings that Denning says are applicable across all sports, around the globe.

"We'd like to become the first name, if you will, in identifying the intangibles in sports, which means the first name in the emotional intelligence field in sports," Denning says.

The market there is large and, Denning says, mostly free of competition at a time when the idea of data- and science-driven analytics are gaining in popularity and use.

"People are moving more and more into traditional analytics," Denning says. "They're into [data showing] if a guy kicks [a ball] with his right foot from this spot this many times and this happens, they like that data. What they don't have is our data, which is the stuff from the inside — the mind."

The company's ATHLETT test scores players in areas like coachability, self leadership, mental toughness and stress. The test uses 106 of what Denning calls "oblique statements" like "I raise my voice to win an argument." The test-taker selects one of four options: strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree. The raw score and team average are presented side-by-side to give coaches a sense of individual and team characteristics.

"It's not a judging test, necessarily," Denning says. "It's 'How do I build the best, high-performing team given the players that I have?' And that's all about roles — role selection, knowing your role, accepting your role. Cohesion."

The company then offers follow-up trainings and assessments that Denning says are key.

"It's not just 'Here's your results, doesn't look too good, see you later,'" Denning says. "It's 'Here's your results and this is what they mean and here are the exercises that we're going to do to fix or improve this area. And then we're going to see you again in three months and re-gauge, retest and continue.'"

The application in the sports industry is the most recent use for the test. Late last year it was used to found the Patient Performance Institute, which uses a similar test to assess the likelihood that a hospital patient will be readmitted. And Denning says the company continues to explore other markets for its testing and leadership services, like the corporate world.

"It is a pretty big market for us — so big in fact that our challenge is oftentimes honing in on where the immediate target is because we see so many different applications for this tool," Denning says.

The company has also launched the nonprofit SEALSfit, which partnered with the Maine Leadership Institute and the Portland Police Department, to use the test and leadership training in programs with teens in the greater Portland area.

So far, Cogsports has inked early deals with the University of Maine football team, the Brown University soccer team and entered discussions with organizations in the United States and Europe, including an English Premier League soccer team.

"We expect pretty rapid growth," Denning says. "The traction we've had to date has been purely relationship-driven."

Denning says the young company started with its eyes on the sports industry. The test not only provides leadership and team-building guidance, but could have potentially warned of problematic behavior such as that exhibited by the New England Patriots' Aaron Hernandez, who now faces a murder charge.

"We can identify those sorts of things at that high level, where return on investment is a concern for ownership and reputation management is a concern for the franchise," Denning says.

Denning says that out of nearly 600 tests administered, only two were considered inaccurate by the clients.

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