Pace Doctor: Developing fast bowling through research with Marc Portus

Pace Doctor aims to be the worlds’ most trusted source of knowledge, research evidence and know-how for the development and coaching of fast bowlers. The owner, Marc Portus hopes to make fast-bowlers better than ever before. Hence their mantra “Making better fast bowlers”. We recently caught up with Marc himself, to hear about what he’s doing via Pace Doctor and his own story within founding the business.

Pace Doctor website - Fast bowling research based coaching
The Pace Doctor website: Supplied

 Sarah Fatima: Tell me a bit about yourself and the business.

Marc Protus: I’m a PhD qualified sports scientist with an Executive MBA. I did my PhD in fast bowling techniques linked to ball speed and back injuries.

I’ve started an online business called Pace Doctor, where we bring the best of the science and medical research related to cricket fast bowling and make it applicable to everyday fast bowlers, their coaches, their parents and their support staff.

Share the idea behind the business. When, where and how did it all happen?

It is something that’s been on my mind for a few years, but I never got around to it since I was busy working at the Australian Institute of Sport and the International Cricket Council. I’ve moved on from both and into the sports consultancy area.

When Corona lockdown came along things slowed down and it was my chance to give Pace Doctor, the mental energy needed to launch.

Could you describe how the Pace Doctor works?

At this stage it’s a straight online service - people can order bowling action analyses from the website, upload their videos through the website using our filming guidelines, and they receive a full technique analysis report and recommendations in 2-4 days. We also offer optional video debrief sessions to walk through the results, discuss the bowlers’ goals and next steps.

Unfortunately, fast-bowling has a high incidence of injuries. What urged you to pick cricket and fast bowling specifically as your field?

I was one of those injured fast bowlers myself, unfortunately!

That was what initially sparked my curiosity, but it always interested me in how I could bowl faster and straighter as a club player when I was growing up in Sydney.

I wasn’t the most talented fast bowler, but I worked hard to get to first grade, but by the time I was there I was exhausted and often injured! I played more second grade than first, I probably didn’t have the knowledge and know-how to prepare myself to be the best bowler I could be.

When I went to study human movement at university and realised you could do postgraduate research into areas like fast bowling biomechanics, it felt like Christmas.

Could you describe the services you offer? How is the Pace Doctor different from any in-clinic consult?

The big difference in our offering is that we offer expertise that has typically been only available to a limited few in elite pathway programs and international cricket. Through the magic of the internet, we can now offer the best of sports science and medicine to allow the greater cricket playing community to access those insights, analysis, programs and guidance, to improve their own performances.

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Our first tranche of services is bowling action analyses, which bring class-leading biomechanical theory and analysis to fast bowlers. We are planning a range of physical assessment and conditioning services to provide fast bowlers a more holistic service.

Having a good technique is great, but if you aren’t physically prepared to use that technique well you won’t reach your potential. The same holds vice versa. If you are a great natural athlete, but your technique is a mess, you won’t fulfil your potential.

The magic is when you can understand the bowler from a range of perspectives (technical, physical, psychological and tactical) and get them working in harmony. This can be difficult to master in an elite environment, let alone in the general cricket market. Technology can help a range of expertise in a coordinated sequential fashion that best suits the client.

Who constitutes your team? What role do they play in running the Pace Doctor?

Besides myself, we have Patrick Farhart, probably the most well-known physiotherapist in world cricket. Absolutely committed to his craft for the last 30 years from a clinical and research perspective. A true leader in his field. He’s currently doing his PhD in fast bowling back injuries too, so look out for some great insights and new knowledge from him over the next few years.

Stuart Karppinen is our guru Strength & Conditioning Coach. Stu was a former first-class fast bowler himself for Western Australia and got his Masters’ degree in Sport Science (S&C). He’s helped physically prepare some of the world’s best fast bowlers for elite battle over the years himself when he was the S&C coach for NSW, Australia and Bangladesh. He now works at the Australian Institute of Sport in his day job, so he’s heavily involved in the Olympic space at the moment, but still holds great passion for fast bowler physical conditioning.

In India, we have TA Sekar, known as ‘Shakes’. He played a handful of matches for India as a fast bowler in the early 1980’s, has worked as fast bowling coach himself since the late 1980s with Dennis Lillee at the MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai. He has worked in the IPL at several franchises for the last number of years. Sekar is one of the few Indian coaches who has a deep understanding of the art and science of fast bowling, so he was a natural fit for Pace Doctor. Shakes offers coaching and mentoring services to the Indian market, leveraging our sport science research insights from Australia.

We see great value in hosting a community of like-minded people - it gives a sense of belonging and keeps us in touch with the ‘front-line’ and ensures we keep offering relevant education and services.

Who are your biggest markets in terms of clients as well as competitors?

India is the big one, though we are happy to help wherever people see value in our offerings, which is the typical cricket countries - Australia, South Africa, sub-continent, UK, NZ etc.

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Cricket in the US is growing and has a large engaged expat community playing the game, so there is potential there too. How we represent ourselves and our services in those different markets is something we will need to work on. As far as we know we don’t have many competitors, but more seem to be emerging, as are we, but they all hail from these cricket-loving markets.

The Pace Doctor is also a forum, so in case one doesn’t require a consult they can just join the online community? Could you describe the community experience?

The online forum is an “under construction” aspect of our business at the moment, but yes it’s definitely something we want to offer to people, regardless of them using our fee-paying services or not.

We see great value in hosting a community of like-minded people - it gives a sense of belonging and keeps us in touch with the ‘front-line’ and ensures we keep offering relevant education and services.

What are the major challenges you face as an online health consultancy?

Before Corona, it would have been a lot harder to sell, but lockdowns and isolation have unleashed another wave of creativity using technology into several markets, not just sport.

I don’t think it will ever replace the personal touch you can get in a clinic or in the training setting, but the enormous advantage is it can bring limited expertise to the broader market.

Describe someone who you look up to, who impacted how you shaped your business?

There have been many people who have impacted my career, it’s hard to list just a few. The three experts that are playing a part in Pace Doctor mentioned above (Patrick, Stuart and ‘Shakes’), are definitely three that have had an impact and were important sounding boards when forming the business, as they continue to be. They keep me in line about what they think will work, what we should do.

What is your advice to anyone aspiring to start their own company?

I suppose there are several things:

Think big and be prepared to take risks, but understand the downsides - do things with both eyes wide open

Understand yourself - it can be a challenging journey, for example, inconsistent income streams, can you be comfortable with that? If not, it may not be for you, you may need a job working for someone else.

Understand your market - who will be your customers and why? I read a car review from the US just recently and they said it was one of the best cars on the market, but nobody is buying it! A great demonstration of the importance of understanding your market. What sells well in Australia may not sell well in the US or in India.

What’s your point of difference? It’s a bit of a cliché these days but it is important to understand, especially in crowded markets, where there are lots of suppliers.

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