The rising star in sports: Analytics

Data analytics is a rising star in sports around the world, helping players and coaches understand and harness the factors that drive success on the field.

By Travis Murphy

What if you could apply data analytics to optimise the performance of every single tiny gear in a much larger machine? The improvements you'd see in terms of performance would be astounding - when each part works at its peak efficiency, the results carry over to the entire effort.

This is what we're seeing at the crossroads of sports and data analytics, where the ability to measure and act upon countless factors is driving achievement in some of the top-performing teams in their respective sports. From individual players and entire teams to external factors like the weather, the data we can capture and investigate for valuable insight is streaming in from all angles. The real question is, are franchises ready to use it?

The old saying is that there is no "I" in team, but that's not how analytics sees it. Instead, analytically minded organisations recognise that many data points about a single "I" make up the team - and understanding how these work together is an advanced method of driving success.

Optimising player performance

Data analytics deliver insights that enable more sophisticated strategy on game day.

Raw ability and a strong training regimen are traditional cornerstones, responsible for an individual player's abilities when it comes to game day. These factors are certainly the easiest to account for and understand - it's not hard to measure how fast someone can run, how much power is in their kick or how many hours they devote each week to drills and exercise.

We know now, however, that many more considerations can play a role in performance. How much sleep did a player get the night before a game? What did they eat for breakfast? Over the course of a year, how did that data correlate with their work on the field? By capturing that data and looking at it from as many angles as possible - things we are more than capable of - it is possible to understand the ideal conditions necessary to get a player on the field at the best of their ability.

The sophistication of findings from such questions is astounding - delivering insights that allow for more precise strategies, such as how long a player can maintain a certain heart rate on the field before it affects their speed and performance.

In a range of sports from rugby to rowing, teams are applying data analytics to drive that individual performance and harness it for real success on the field.

Data analytics is delivering the insights that propel teams to victory on the field.

Treating data as a strategic asset aligns all parts of the player performance to better drive its capture and use. In other words, if teams treat data like it truly matters, they will certainly see performance benefits. A data-driven culture is the glue necessary for making information a truly strategic asset.

Bringing it back to the team

The old saying is that there is no "I" in team, but that's not how analytics sees it. Instead, analytically minded organisations recognise that many data points about a single "I" make up the team - and understanding how these work together is an advanced method of driving success.

Analytics lets coaches understand how players work together.

Analytics lets coaches and strategists understand how all players work together - and optimise the ways they do so. Just as it can help businesses understand the projected return on certain investments, analytics shows teams what plays are the most ideal to run depending on the circumstances.

Where such tools really shine, however, is in their ability to account for all the disparate data sources that factor into performance. Athletes know that success isn't measured in metres and minutes; it comes down to millimetres and milliseconds. This is where external data - the weather, how many fans are in the stands, what time of day the game kicks off - can make small gains that help push a team to victory.

The tools teams need

The trick with all this data is that it's big - so massive that it is next to impossible to use without the right tools. This is where SAS comes into play.

SAS Analytics is a star player with a number of teams in sports around the world, delivering valuable insight that drives success. Can it do the same for your organisation?

About the Author

Travis Murphy is Marketing Lead for SAS Solutions in Australia and New Zealand. He has over 15 years of experience in BI, DW, Data Visualization and Analytics. Prior to SAS, he held roles with other large IT vendors focused on business analytics. These roles include product management, consulting, training and presales. In his current role at SAS, Travis covers a broad range of offerings and works with customers in adopting SAS technology and driving better insight from all available data.

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