23 Dec Combine and Collate: using data to deliver actionable insight in sport
We’re living in a data driven world. From the moment we pick up our smartphones, information on anything from local weather to live updates on events is at our fingertips. In the business world, marketers can build detailed customer profiles to drive data driven marketing engines, and intelligent analytics can predict outcomes of trades in finance.
As an organisation emerging from the world of motorsports engineering to serve the wider sporting arena, we’ve seen a disconnect between generating data and actually using it to deliver actionable insights. The key to understanding athlete performance is a rounded picture, developed through collating multiple data sources.
Develop a rounded picture
Measurement could include physiological tests such as lactate, heart rate and breath by breath, or biomechanics tests such as step length, velocity, force and power. Each of these can have an impact on performance, the challenge is understanding how these combine together to impact an overall result.
Although informative on their own, each area of measurement doesn’t represent a whole picture. Provenance is therefore key, where was power impacted? Why did that heart rate rise? Combining all of this information together, say with video data as well could add a whole other element to analysis, enabling a more informed and objective, cross practitioner, understanding of what just happened. Data can then be used to support decision making on what would be best to do next, as opposed to how to improve one small aspect of physiological or bio-mechanical performance.
Combining data is hard in practise.
In practical terms though, combining data, especially from different equipment manufacturers can be difficult for sports teams. In our Internet of Things driven age, too many manufacturers of sports equipment continue to build products that only process information in their own proprietary technology formats. This issue, combined with the fact that data is often not recorded at the same time frequency means that it can take a long time to combine information into a single timeline, especially in a tool like Excel.
Even if coaches have their own data analysis teams with the time to collate so much multifaceted information, generating insights at a time anywhere near when they might be required can be difficult. Data instantly or shortly after an event adds real objective value, whereas a report of what an athlete or team did last week often becomes purely a historical curiosity.
Sporting performance happens live, so teams that can provide their objective feedback live, will have a significant advantage.
Combining and collating data easily in sport is possible.
Better combining and collating data to add value, although difficult, isn’t impossible. With the right expertise, bespoke platforms can be created. Teams should be investing in data management and analytics tools that can extract and understand information from different equipment. These systems should then be able to provide visualisations to communicate exactly what is impacting performance in a pre-defined way, building in sport intelligence to give context to the numbers. Good examples could be world record performance or individual training goals, giving numbers a relevance within a system.
We’ve worked on a number of bespoke tools that do exactly this for British Athletics and others. Through better collation and combination of data the team at the organisation has been able to deliver in-session analysis combined with video. Through a constant test and learn process that is evolving over time, athletics training sessions can be tailored, adjusted and optimised based on previous performance.
Coach-led objective reporting is key.
Making combined data available instantly can dramatically increase its value. Coaches can drive improvements as areas to improve on are identified. By better combining and collating data, sports teams can turn themselves into data and performance driven organisations which will ultimately deliver better results, more wins and national success.
Pace Insights is a sport engineering consultancy. With 15 gold medal winning customers in Rio 2016, we work with high-performance sports to enhance their performance through better use of data and applied technology.
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