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Data Analytics in Sport: Science vs People

Liz Masen
CEO of Athlete Assessments

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An article has been published in the MIT Technology Review looking at the best-selling book Moneyball by Michael Lewis and how it has changed the way people think about data analytics in sport.

Lewis’s book introduced the sporting world, and in particular those with the biggest vested interests, a method in which player performance was measured and assessed using algorithms and science driven by the ability to gather vast amounts of data about players and the play during a game.

And while this is exciting, and having and relying on all of this data is tempting, unless you can find a way to make it meaningful to athletes, it won’t work.

Data Analytics in Sport: Science vs People

At Athlete Assessments, we are experts in the people side of sport. We know that sport is played by people, coached by people and managed by people, so it is imperative to get the people side right. Since 2007 we have been fortunate enough to have worked with more than 22,000 coaches, athletes, and sports administrators. This work has spanned 41 different sports, 700 teams and several countries.

Using Data Analytics in Sport

When we look at teams that achieve extraordinary results, or sporting organizations that continue to stay ahead of the rest, what they attribute as central to their success is leadership, how their team ‘just works’, the high standards of behavior they demand, and their persistent drive. Essentially, they attribute success to the people involved and the interactions they have.

“A common mistake among those who work in sport is spending a disproportional amount of time on “x’s and o’s” as compared to time spent learning about people,” – Mike Kryzewski

As an example, when we look at invasion games such as basketball, we believe relationships and how well people work together is a defining factor in the teams’ sporting success. Big Data Analytics in Sport involves network science where the players are not seen as people, they are seen as “nodes” and a line is drawn between them when the ball travels from one to the other.  The data distinguishes the most important nodes in the network using a measure known as centrality. It also allows the network to be divided into clusters, so some team members might only pass to each other or work more effectively together. Kind of how DISC Profiling looks at different behaviors in people and how this effects the way they interact and work together.

Data Analytics in Sport: Science vs People

Lewis’s research is certainly an interesting development in sport. However a challenge it faces is learning how to utilize the data collected to gain a “competitive advantage, whether in real time during the game or to help in training, preparation, or recruitment.” Basically it faces the challenge of personalization.

So although there are exciting times ahead with data analytics in sport, it is important that science doesn’t overtake the people side of sport all together.

Relationships and how well people work together is a defining factor in sporting success. Technical ability is never the defining factor in top performance.

*At Athlete Assessments we are passionate about the on-going development of sport, Coaches, athletes, their clubs and organizations and all sports professionals. Our goal is to help you improve your performance and realize your true potential. Our services include DISC Profiling, Performance Reviews, Team Consultations, Professional Development Training Programs, Conference Presentations and Keynote Speaking.

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Athlete Assessments'


Where so many other factors in sport, across sports programs and organizations are very similar, managing the ‘people side’ well differentiates the mediocre and truly great. DISC Profiling will take your team’s performance to the next level, allowing you to get ahead and stay ahead.

Our team packages include DISC Assessments plus importantly, a series of consultations via video conference. Our goal is to use the information of the DISC profiles to the benefit of your program and coaching and make it as useful and practical as possible.

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