Seldom does a movie change the way sports are played, but in 2011, Moneyball did just that. Based on the Michael Lewis book of the same name, Moneyball chronicles the Oakland A’s 2003 season, in which the use of data analytics changed the way baseball teams signed, paid and used players.
Like it or not, data analytics is here to stay. Since 2011, data analytics exploded and has grown to accommodate every aspect of sports – from front-office operations, to on-field performances, to injury prevention, to concession sales, to travel and anything else you can think of.
For coaches, however, data is just another tool. As much as analyzing data can help teams better predict and enhance performances, sports remain largely unpredictable.
According to an article in the Guardian by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a professor of business psychology at University College London, “Sports analytics, computer-generated algorithms, and big data can certainly improve human decision-making in the field of competitive sports, but so long as the athletes are human, technology alone will not improve their performances.
“Data can help us make better predictions, but it will not make people more predictable than they already are. Finally, most coaches, clubs and managers have access to the same quality and quantity of data, but significant differences between their performances remain because human decision-making still dominates the game.”
The ability for players to make good decisions relies on their ability to gather retain and understand information. The Guardian article points to a quote by German Philosopher Immanuel Kant: “Theory without data is groundless, but data without theory is just uninterpretable.”
Writes Chamorro-Premuzic, “The point of data is to refine our intuition, but, at the same time, a great deal of intuition is needed to make sense of any data. Unless you know what to look for, the data will show only numbers.”
It is becoming increasingly necessary for coaches to be able to identify what data is important to track and have the ability to interpret it to the benefit of their players. However, the coach has to find the right time to use it with each individual.
“Athletes are pre-wired to respond more emphatically to humans than computers,” says Chamorro-Premuzic. “Even if data does a good job at diagnosing problems, the intervention – acting on those problems, including making decisions and influencing athletes – is best left in the hands of humans.”
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