The missing link(s) in sports analytics

Barcelona – Our partners and friends of FC Barcelona invited sport analytics pioneers, coaches, technology providers from all around the world to the 2nd FC Barcelona Sport Technology Symposium 2016. Speakers included representatives from big leagues and federations (FIFA, UEFA, NFL, NBA) leading sports organizations (Juventus Turin, Manchester United, Manchester City, PSV Eindhoven) and research institutions (Cornell University, German Sport University Cologne). Over the last years sports analytics experienced tremendous rise. Hereby, tracking systems play an important role by measuring and analyzing individual as well team performance during games and training. However, the conference was clearly not (only) about embracing the power of sports analytics, but rather focusing on what is still missing in performance analysis? Moreover, how we can improve in order to exploit the (potential) value of performance data in the future.

So what is still missing?

Context-based performance analytics

Physical activity is often treated a homogeneous metric, but not seen in the perspective of the dynamics of the game, the position of the players, or simply the specific game situation. How can we address this? Part of it by the usage of positional data. Position data is available for official games in the big football leagues by optical tracking systems (e.g. Premier League, La Liga, and Bundesliga). However, in this case many physical performance variables are missing due to missing sensor data (in the past, wearing sensors during official games has not been allowed by most federations and leagues). For training, it is the other way around. Many clubs use wearables, but do not use solutions allowing for positioning data. Still GPS systems are predominant in training. This will change in the future since real-time LPS solution – such as KINEXON – are already available in the market and gain momentum. What is the beauty of having positioning data for performance analysis? Position data during training allows for context-based analyses of physical demands of the sports. Do midfielder in football have a higher activity in offensive or defensive plays? Where on the field do players need to do the most intense accelerations?

An even bigger impact comes with ball tracking in training. Ball tracking allows for automated detection of ball possession, specific tactical situations (e.g. counter attacks or pressing). Coaches can relate this to physical demands such as accelerations, changes of direction and jumps. The broader usage of ball tracking will open a new chapter in performance analysis on a daily base. At KINEXON we strongly focus on the development of reliable ball tracking information and smart algorithms in order to analyze the data for real-time insights.

Team dynamic analytics

By analyzing position data of players and the ball, coaches and sports scientists receive richer insights into the tactical dynamics of the game. Today, statistics focus too much on the individuals, but we should have a closer look at the collective performance of position groups and the team (Ignacio Torreno,  sports scientist and assistant trainer at ACF Fiorentina). Analyzing the dynamics of the game will lead to new performance indicators in sports. How do you evaluate the tactical intelligence of players? What is or would have been the optimal route running in a counter attack? Was it the right decision to pass the ball, or should the forward have challenged the one on one situation? New metrics such as passed-by players, pass accuracy under pressure, or pressing intensity will open new angles to evaluate performance of players and teams considering the dynamics of the game.

With positioning data provided by the top leagues that can be done already today for official games. However, most clubs do not have that option in training. The new generation of LPS solutions are able to evaluate automatically various situations of the game considering the dynamics of all players in real-time.

However, by increasing levels of data and analytical possibilities, complexity in order to consume this information increases. As Daniel Memmert (Professor at German Sport University Cologne ) stated in his talk on new frontiers of tactical analysis of positioning data: We need more educated sports scientists and coaches willing to learn and analyze the valuable data we have collected. There is still a gap between the possibilities of big data and the capabilities of its users.

Simplicity

The need for more education on (big) data analytics brings me to one of the biggest challenges of today’s performance analytics: usability of sports analytics solutions. Even though we need more sports scientists and coaches used to analyze and interpret data, we – as technology providers – have the responsibility in order to provide consumable insights in order to help coaches making better decisions. For professional coaches performance data is only one ingredient of the complex recipe for success. This is why we need to provide performance analytics (based on tracking data) in an easy and user-friendly way. Coaches need insights fast and at a glance. Ruud van Elk, first-team sports scientist at PSV Eindhoven, summarizes the requirements for a tracking solution: reliable, simple, clear and fast. Coaches do not want to wait days for analytics and they do not have the time to spent hours studying performance statistics in order to understand what they actual mean. Clear and simple visualizations of the insights are key to receiving the acceptance of the decision makers in professional sports. Only when we succeed to provide valuable insights in a simple and more striking way, more coaches (even experienced ones) will have the chance to use analytics for their decision making process. Technology should never be used for the sake of technology itself. Innovation and the daily implementation of new technology within sports organizations has to come through coaches and their demand for valuable insights into the performance of players and the whole team.

Our team is embracing the homework we received from our partners, customers and users in Barcelona. The sports analytics revolution is a long process and we all just scratched on the surface of its possibilities.

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