Baseball’s Billy Beane first thrust sports analytics into the public eye as General Manager of the Oakland Athletics in the early 2000s. His then unorthodox method of assessing players shook up baseball executive offices and established sports analytics as a growing field in baseball and beyond. Though the field has evolved tremendously in the ensuing decade, it remains largely misunderstood. In part, this stems from the fact that no two sports nor two teams within a given sport use analytics in the same way. Below, I will try to shed some light on the growing field of sports analytics.
Some people associate analytics with the mere collection of data. This is far from the case. The consumer of a report does not want to receive reams of data. They do not have the time to sift through, nor do they necessarily have the experience to connect dots and identify the meaningful bits. Analytics is aggregating, identifying trends, and interpreting the data within a given context. Analytics provide another tool in a coaches’ arsenal to help them better prepare for and win their games. In isolation, data is limiting. When interpreted through the lens of an experienced practitioner, however, it’s extremely powerful.
In an interview, Joel Sokol, founding director of Georgia Tech’s interdisciplinary Master of Science in Analytics spoke to using scouting and analytics in concert with one another. He states, “The most successful teams are those that have integrated qualitative and quantitative approaches (e.g.,scouting and analytics) in complementary ways, rather than those that have used one to replace the other.” Combining traditional scouting and robust analytics gives a team a distinct competitive advantage. Those who ignore one or the other do so at their peril.
At Atavus, we strive to give our clients a competitive advantage by using analytics to improve tackling. We distill heaps of data down to provide recommendations and actionable items- in the form of drills- for our clients to improve their Tracking and Tackling (see The Art of The Tackle). Our process is designed to have data analyzed and interpreted through the lens of practitioners with decades of experience in both rugby and football. Data driven recommendations are then presented as simply as possible. Does it work? It’s still early, but the initial signs are promising. After Week 12 of the college football season, our partners’ defenses, University of Washington, University of Nebraska, and Ohio State, are all in top 20 for points allowed. At one point this season, all three were Top 10.
The most exciting aspect of sports analytics as a discipline is how much room there is for growth. The supply of meaningful data available is growing at a considerable rate due to the booming wearable technology sector. This coupled with the demand from forward thinking sports organizations for more useful information creates real opportunities for in-house and third-party analytics teams.
Here at Atavus, we certainly don’t have all the answers. That said, we’re learning every single day and talking to everyone we can find with a strong point of view or unique application. We’d love to hear how you’re using sports analytics. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org with your stories big and small.