Last week the market gave a strong answer to the question “Are analytics now out of fashion?” with biometric tracker WHOOP’s $1.2 billion valuation. It’s one of the biggest we’ve yet seen and a sign industry is looking to analytics to solve some of its thorniest challenges, including those arising from COVID-19. But what’s the role for analytics across the industry and what are the burning areas right now?
To answer, let’s take a look at the English Premier League where muscle injuries this season have increased 42 percent from the same stage in the 2018-19 season. The University of Jena’s Dr. Joel Mason identifies a shortened pre-season and fixture congestion as big contributors: players are going straight into games where the intensity and physicality are no less than last season’s, but with shorter periods of downtime and recovery in between.
Physicality of leagues is increasing, not decreasing. Competitiveness within leagues is increasing not decreasing and these are trends that aren’t going away. Clubs will need to better leverage information to discover new facets of long-familiar, seemingly one-dimensional factors. Here, analytics can certainly play a role to identify avenues for coaches and practitioners to get more from what they already have.
Brentford’s work on sleep and Everton Academy’s focus on nutrition are excellent examples. Seeing footballers as shift workers, Brentford’s sleep expert Anna West works “on optimisation of sleep” but she doesn’t assume every player needs the same amount. She takes an individual approach, examining factors like temperature, clothing, alcohol, and location, among others. “Sleep,” West says, “is not a silo – it’s what happens to us as a result of everything else we do during the day.”
At Everton, Dr. Marcus Hannon delved into nutrition in a similar way. He determined “daily energy intake should be adjusted as players transition through the Academy pathway.” This puts to bed the broad sweeping trends we’ve all heard of “This is how an athlete should eat.”
The reality is for both sleep and nutrition, different types of intervention are needed for different training regimes and different players at different times in the season. Analytics can help coaches understand when and why it might make sense to make changes.
What it should not do is make the changes itself.
Gain’s Group’s Dave Anderson highlights this temptation and polarization explaining that coaches too often feel analysts want to make decisions for them. That’s absolutely not the role of analytics in elite sport. As Anderson says, “Analytics are there to simplify the decision-making process by taking 50 or so choices down to five.” It’s there to support coaches in making faster, more informed decisions.
The adoption of analytics writ large will be a function of how well its advocates communicate to coaches it’s true role: supporting — not replacing — their expertise and authority from muscle injuries to sleep to nutrition and everything else.
That’s a conversation industry needs to have. It’s one Kitman Labs is eager to help facilitate.
I’ll be sharing thoughts on sport’s most impactful developments and news of the day in the coming weeks. I welcome your feedback at email@example.com.