Sunday, August 4, 2013

Analyzing Pro Athletes' Physiological Dashboard

I recently came across an article about the "sports science" changes that Chip Kelly has implemented since becoming head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.  Basically, the Eagles spent more than $1 million investing in new technology that measures physiological details (heart rate, amount of time spent running during practice, 3d views of how players are lifting weights, etc) in the hopes of creating a "physiological dashboard" for each player.  They want to monitor the performance of each player during practice to increase training efficiency, such as ending practice early for players reaching their endurance limits or ensuring that players receive the correct amount of hydration based on what was lost during practice.  A large portion of the article is dedicated to describing the Eagles sports-science coordinator, who has previously served as a strength coach and nutritionist for colleges and the Navy SEALs.

Here are some interesting quotes:

  • "The result is a data driven approach to training"
  • "Players can log into their personal computers to check their own fitness profiles"
  • "Last season Catapult helped on of its NFL clients compare practice data ... in weeks when the team won compared to those when it lost.  A trend emerged: during Thursday practices before losses, offensive skill players were running a lot but not very quickly."
OK, so NFL teams are beginning to collect all of this data about their players.  But who exactly is mining all of this data to find useful information?  I can't believe that its the sports-science coordinator (he doesn't have a statistics degree).  Plus, who can actually monitor and interpret all of this data in real-time (i.e. during practice)?  It seems that Catapult, an IT consulting company focused on interpreting data, is doing some work after the season is over, but do any of these teams have the capacity to perform analysis in-house?  Here are a few things to think about:
  1. I'm sure most of the companies selling the equipment have guidelines or suggestions for how to interpret the data.  So maybe a bell goes off when a player's heart rate gets too high.  But how accurate are these baselines, especially when the same guidelines are applied to 180lb running backs and 350lb linemen?
  2. What is the goal of collecting all of this data?  Making real-time decisions about players' health during practice?  Drawing team-wide conclusions about what does/doesn't work at the end of the season?  These are 2 very different questions that could influence the most effective way to collect data.
  3. How much are teams investing into analyzing this data (either in-house or through ouside companies)?  For current genomic sequencing projects, more money is spent on the analysis than the sequencing experiment itself.  So are the Eagles planning to spend an additional $1 million on interpreting all of this data?  Or will this data just go to waste?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

College Basketball Commitments

I came across a very nice article describing the college commitment habits of 700 top basketball recruits.  The author does a great job of delving through the data and concisely summarizing the main findings.  A few of my favorite highlights:
  1. First, just obtaining all of this data (all high schools and colleges attended for all 700 athletes) must have been a Herculean task.  
  2. I like that he also displays the data with several bar charts and a very colorful cumulative density plot showing how early in their high school career that recruits commit to a college.
  3. Of the players who spent at least 2 seasons playing in college, over a third didn't end up where they started.
  4. Think that these top recruits only bounce around universities to get the most exposure?  4 of the recruits attended 6 different high schools, including current NBA player Michael Beasley.  Plus, over 50% of the 2013 recruiting class attended at least 2 high schools.