The Rise of Big Data in Sports

So I am sure most of you have heard about the rise of “Big Data” in our society. It seems as though everything nowadays can be quantified and trends can be extrapolated from them. Sport is no exception to this phenomenon. As the book Moneyball illustrates, sport organizations around the world are trying to harness data to get the upper hand on their competitors. Soccer clubs use GPS plotting to track players movement and exploit vulnerabilities. Volleyball teams run percentages about were each player is most likely to hit. And cyclists track nearly every pedal stroke to ascertain wattage, RPM and relative velocity.

Luckily, at US Speedskating we have some really smart people around us who are doing these same things. In a lot of ways, US Speedskating is similar to the Oakland Athletic in Michael Lewis’ Moneyball. (Read the book. The movie is good but per usual the book is better.) Our payroll is pathetic. We don’t have access to all the latest gadgets and widgets. So, we have to be smarter and craftier than other teams out there. As such, just about everything we do gets quantified in some regards. My training journal is in the cloud. Our warm ups are prescribed and recorded. Bike rides are GPS tracked. We are constantly filling out feedback forms. And most of us sleep with an app running on our phones, all night, to measure how much deep sleep we are getting. Once the coaches have all this data, they run the numbers and look for trends and how to maximize our results.

This revolution in sport science leads to some interesting paradoxes. At times, no matter what the data says you just feel like crap and need to do a different workout. Also, there will invariably be times when you just want to play soccer or something else for warm up to keep what little sanity you have left. But those instances are, by far, the outliers in the grand scheme of the program.

Its my impression that if your program is predicated on “feel” and what you “think” is right, you are going to be left behind faster than the old rotary phones of the 1970s. Sure you may get it right on occasion but why would you not want to know that you are getting it right more often than not. Google does not run their company on guesses. Manchester United does not win their trophies based on “feel”. Big data is here to stay and eliminates much of the guess-work for our coaches and hopefully helps us bridge the gap to the big budget teams.

Where is my iPhone? I think I have another damn survey to fill out!