This startup hacks the brain to help make you a better athlete

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Yes, this is how I tried improving my golf swing.

ikkossmalllogoFor a golfer trying to perfect his or her swing, there are several ways to be like Tiger Woods: You can hire a coach, enroll in a school, buy books or watch videos, just to name a few.

What I did the other day was a little different. It required no reading material and no driving range — just me, a geeky headset and some slow-motion golf meditation.

But first, a little background on IKKOS. The Seattle-based company participated in Microsoft’s Kinect Accelerator startup program last summer where they developed a platform for learning movement.

Since then, the company has slightly pivoted. They’ve focused their efforts away from the Kinect for now and more toward mobile apps.

IKKOS founder and CEO Sean Hutchinson.

IKKOS founder and CEO Sean Hutchinson.

But the premise of IKKOS has remained the same: combining technology with audio and visual cues to help people move with better proficiency.

Led by former Olympic swim coach and entrepreneur Sean Hutchinson, IKKOS is built on the scientific research behind “neuroplasticity” — essentially, how the brain actively adapts to new environments, tasks and stimuli.

The company of eight developed a patent-pending technology that pairs video footage with audio cues with the hope of activating specific regions of the brain associated with kinetic learning. It’s tailored for athletes involved in sports like swimming, golf and basketball; physical therapy patients can also benefit.

It is a little confusing to understand, so I had to try it out myself.


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Golf meditation with IKKOS.

As Hutchinson fiddles with goggles that came straight out of “Tron,” I begin to wonder what the heck is going on. 

“Have a seat,” Hutchinson tells me. “The goal is get comfortable. Try and be as relaxed as you can.”

After sitting down, Hutchinson places the headset over my eyes and tells me to put the attached earbuds in. I’m told to relax and watch a video of a professional golfer swinging a club for five minutes.

“You might be thinking about what kind of jacket the guy is wearing or what is going on around you,” Hutchinson said. “Let those ideas flow off.”

Am I in a meditation class? If so, sweet — I’ve always wanted to try this out, especially if it means improving my golf swing.

Hutchinson pushes a button on the headset, and we’re ready to rock and roll. Suddenly, I’m watching the same five-second video played over, and over, and over, and over, and over. With each swing, a fluctuating pulsing noise that matches the golfer’s movements rattles through my brain.

I’m being brainwashed, but in a good way.

I try to focus on his swing, watching the follow through, taking mental notes on how far he takes the club back, etc., etc. Meanwhile, I hear the noise and it forces me to think about the golfer’s pendulum-like tempo.

Five minutes are up. The headset is off and I stand up, but that noise is still in my head, and I’m still envisioning the golfer. Hutchinson hands me the club.

“You’re going to wear this again, but this time the screen will be black as the audio plays,” Hutchinson said, holding the goggles. “Swing the club and match speed of audio with the speed of the club and the image in your head. See the golfer in your head.”

The headset is back on and I try to match my swing with the audio.

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Staring in to a black screen, trying to match audio cues with images in my head.

Hutchinson stops me. “You’re swinging too fast,” he says. “People always want to go too fast.”

He offers a music analogy about a guitarist learning a new song. That musician won’t play the song at an appropriate tempo when he or she first learns the notes — you start off slowly, then learn to perfect the music.

“When you slow down, your brain tells you what to do,” Hutchinson said.

It’s not easy going at super slow motion, but that’s the speed that the audio cues are synced up to. And as I think back to my meditation period, I remember how slow the professional was swinging. The sounds help provide an anchor in my brain.

When I slow down, I’m thinking about specific movements more often and more intensely. Need to keep my arm straight, need to follow through standing tall, need to hinge my wrists more — just like the pro.

It starts to make sense as I slow the process down. The ringing audio cues are more vivid in my head. I’m starting to get it, and I want more.

“Part of what this is is figuring out what you’re doing,” Hutchinson tells me. “The more you get better at it, the more addicting it gets.”

Now this is an addiction I could get used to.


ikkosgogglesThe Tron googles are off and Hutchinson takes a video of my new swing with his iPad, which has an IKKOS beta app installed on it. We’re able to see side-by-side comparisons of myself and the professional, noting the similarities and differences.

There’s also a sharing option on the mobile app, and Hutchinson tweeted the results out for the world to see.

IKKOS already sells the pre-loaded headset online for $189, but the mobile app, which comes without goggles and is designed to be used without a coach, will be polished and released to the public later this summer. It’s a more efficient and economic option, as users will be able to download the app on the cheap, then purchase different sports packages from a library. That content comes from IKKOS partners made up of accomplished athletes. 

While wearing the headset provides a more immersive experience, Hutchinson said the using the app still provides “extraordinary results.” 

IKKOS has been beta tested on all types of athletes already, from grade school swimmers to university athletes to Olympians.

“I really enjoyed using IKKOS,” said Mark Gangloff, 2004 and 2008 USA Olympian and two-time gold medalist. “When wearing IKKOS, you are so focused on the technique you are watching that the pattern becomes downloaded into your brain. It is a great teaching tool for all athletes.”

The company, which pulled in annual investors over the past few months, has plans to move into different sports, “lifestyle movements” like yoga or Tai Chi and physical therapy. Eventually, as IKKOS grows, Hutchinson wants his team to help people do things they didn’t think they could.

“Our goal,” he says, “is to change how the world learns movement.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=94500172 Kyle Kesterson

    I’ve always been fascinated with how brilliant the team at Ikkos is. It was a mind bending treat to work next to them during the Accelerator, and I’m pleased to see they are now within my price range, and closer to devices I own.

    Can’t wait to try out the iPad app!

  • john Nelson

    Congrats to Sean and the Ikkos team!