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Overview of: ‘Data Analytics and the Future of Elite Sporting Performance’ forum 7 February 2017

21 February 2017

The Lewis Silkin Sports Business Group hosted its latest forum event, ‘Data analytics and the future of elite sporting performance’ on Tuesday 7 February, at which our esteemed panellists provided real insight on how elite athletes and teams are increasingly relying on data analysis to gain a competitive edge.

We were privileged to be joined by

  • Chris Anderson - Anderson Sally and author of “The Numbers Game, why everything you know about football is wrong”
  • Giles Lindsay – National Lead for Performance Analysis at ECB; and
  • Simon Banoub - Global Director of Marketing, Catapult.

We extend a huge thank you to all of them for their contributions. Although the forum was hosted on a Chatham House Rules basis, given the positive feedback we’ve received we wanted to follow up by capturing some of the key points.

Analytics in ‘the working week’

Our panel began by discussing the role that analytics plays in the “working week” of professional sports teams - from opposition research to real time analysis on matchday. Chris Anderson cited his experience in US sports and pointed out that much depends on the genetics of the game itself (with baseball being identified as a sport particularly predisposed to a numerical analysis). Our panel agreed that, generally, the role of data analytics within a sports team is to improve decision making processes and assist individuals to overcome inbuilt biases.
Chris Anderson pointed to the three P’s in using data to improve performance:
1. People – do you have the talent to gather and utilise the raw data?
2. Processes – do you have right ones in place to generate the insight you are looking for?; and
3. Plan – do you have one and does your data analysis inform and shape it?

Data analytics in recruitment

The discussion then moved to the role of data analytics in recruitment - and whether the debate of “old fashioned player scout v data analytics geek” is still relevant. Our panel concluded that, rather than a binary “either/or”, recruitment is now an amalgamation of the two - a process of evolution rather than a switch from one to the other. Simon Banoub explained how Catapult technology is able to build a portfolio of performance for an athlete throughout the age grades and how this is being used in baseball to predict future performance of players. We also heard how data is able to give a fuller picture to the selector (helping to explain differing performances by references to variations in pitch size etc).

The capture and use of data

Guests were then asked to consider which sports are leading the way in the capture and use of data. The panel discussed a range of innovative uses of data (such as how changing the technique of the catcher can increase the number of strikes called) and how teams can use an amalgamation of data to assess fatigue and overall “player load”. The finances of professional sport came under the microscope and we heard how data can influence the decisions made in the boardroom just as it can those on the pitch.

Moving to the technical aspects of data collation, the panel discussed which metrics are now being measured other than the usual “distance covered” and “heart rate”. There were some interesting answers, ranging from “where on the racket does the ball connect” to measuring perspiration levels. Sleep‎ analysis was also identified as something which will soon become a much greater focus.

The next big thing...

Finally, the panel were asked to predict the next “big thing” in data analytics in sport. Simon Banoub forecasted that devices will get ever smaller and different garments will be increasingly interconnected (he also predicted a flood of cheap consumer devices onto the market). Giles Lindsay highlighted the possibility of using virtual reality in training and Chris Anderson believes that there will be significant levels of investment from sports teams in this area. What is clear is that the way data is captured and used in sport is set for fast-paced change in the short term and will be the source of much comment and interest.

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