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7/21/2014
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Internet of Sports: How Seattle Sounders Track Performance

The US soccer powerhouse uses wearable devices and data visualization to analyze the fitness levels of stars like Clint Dempsey.

data dashboards -- they only need to see the tip of the iceberg. We come up with the metrics under the water."

When looking at athletic performance data, Tenney says there are two levels:

  • External load (measured by the Catapult GPS device). This looks at body mechanics. How much is the player running? How much work is he doing?
  • Internal load (measured by the heart rate monitor). This calculates how hard the body works internally to complete the external load. When there are odd spikes in internal load, a player is overtraining. 

Ideally, the external load rating is high, and the internal load rating is low. "That way you have a big engine that doesn't need as much gas," says Tenney.

Players know their data
Professional soccer rules ban wearables during matches, which is a kind of a moot point, says Tenney, because there isn't a wearable yet that's small and comfortable enough for a game situation. "But there will be as the technology improves."

However, the league does capture player distance and velocity data during games via cameras placed throughout stadiums that create an X-Y coordinate grid of the field. This displays how much distance each player covers and at what velocity. Teams get access to that data, and although it's not as precise as what wearables can deliver, it's still useful. Tenney and staff load this in-game data into Tableau, hone it, and send results to coaches and players.

Not surprisingly, Sounders players are more interested in game data than practice data. But either way, players have become so in tune with data that they can accurately guess their numbers. 

Says Tenney: "After a game recently, I asked Clint Dempsey how he felt, and he said, 'OK, but my total distance was down and my high-speed rate was down.' And he was right! Having seen his data enough he knows what an 11,000 meter game feels like." 

Another player, midfielder Osvaldo Alonso, has been known to correctly guess his training distances within 200 meters of accuracy without looking at any data.

Sports science the new Moneyball?
Tenney sees a shift taking place in sports analytics away from the "Moneyball" method of exclusively poring over game stats, and toward more inclusion of GPS-driven fitness data. "Moneyball people are stats people who have no training in biometrics and physiology. It's a different decision-making process."

The trick for sports scientists and data analysts is to only give coaches and players the data that'll help them win.

"That's why you need good analytics people," Tenney says. "If you don't have that, you'll just end up with more fitness data than you know what to do with." 

InformationWeek's new Must Reads is a compendium of our best recent coverage of the Internet of Things. Find out the way in which an aging workforce will drive progress on the Internet of Things, why the IoT isn't as scary as some folks seem to think, how connected machines will change the supply chain, and more. (Free registration required.)

Shane O'Neill is Managing Editor for InformationWeek. Prior to joining InformationWeek, he served in various roles at CIO.com, most notably as assistant managing editor and senior writer covering Microsoft. He has also been an editor and writer at eWeek and TechTarget. ... View Full Bio

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PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
7/23/2014 | 10:21:57 AM
Re: big data in sports can minimize player injury
I saw many documentaries about injuries in football.  How many players retire with multiple injuries and can't function properly after their sports career ends.  The same it is said for wrestlers whom have to sustain multiple hits its over long periods of time.  These tools can at least minimize their injuries.
stotheco
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stotheco,
User Rank: Ninja
7/22/2014 | 2:13:18 PM
Re: big data in sports can minimize player injury
Injuries are the bane of an athlete's career, not to mention their team (if they belong in one) and to their fans, who can no longer see them play. So to say that less injuries is a good thing is definitely an understatement, lol.
Shane M. O'Neill
IW Pick
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
7/22/2014 | 9:37:49 AM
Re: big data in sports can minimize player injury
There's definitely a rationale for analyzing fitness data to prevent injury/improve performance. But I also like the idea of sports transcending data. Strange things happen in competitive sports -- underdogs often defy the odds (and data) and win through chemistry and teamwork. And some players are just special. I remember Michael Jordan single-handedly winning an NBA finals game ... with the flu! Obviously, the data would say he's ill, take him out. He had another gear. But most players are not Michael Jordan, and need to find ways to stay healthy and competitive.
PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
7/21/2014 | 6:22:44 PM
Re: big data in sports can minimize player injury
@CurtFranklin.  I agree the decreasing the chances of injury will really improve any game. As a fan, i'm displeased when my favorite athlete can't play because of injury.  As you said kurt, their performance will go up while decreasing their changes of injury.  Specially in football, where their bodies really take a beating.

 
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
7/21/2014 | 5:00:02 PM
Re: big data in sports can minimize player injury
I find the intersection of big data and sports depressing. I prefer "just do it" to measure it. It takes the mystery away and I think mystery has value, even though I know there's a rationale for it.
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
7/21/2014 | 2:16:40 PM
Re: big data in sports can minimize player injury
@RobPreston, can you imagine fantasy leagues if all this information becomes available to fans?
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
7/21/2014 | 2:15:53 PM
Re: big data in sports can minimize player injury
@ChrisMurphy, I think it's going to be interesting when they push the instrumentation both to the field and internally for the players. I know that some programs have athletes swallow RFID pills before practice -- pills that send temperature and other info to a receiver in the trainers' hands. With any luck we'll be able to lower heat-related and other stress injuries while watching performance go up.
RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
7/21/2014 | 1:27:25 PM
Re: big data in sports can minimize player injury
Moneyball moves beyond talent evaluation to player training. 
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
7/21/2014 | 1:13:46 PM
Re: big data in sports can minimize player injury
At the InformationWeek Conference, the NFL CIO talked about the league experimenting with putting chips in shoulder pads, initially just to track the simplest things like playing time. She said once the fields get instrumented, that's when the data output will get really interesting.  
PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
7/21/2014 | 12:40:01 PM
big data in sports can minimize player injury
I'm a soccer fan and this article was very interesting.  I think the use of big data in sports will grow even more if it hasn't done so already.  I read that a soccer team in NY has a data scientist on their coach staff.  I wonder whether other sports will follow suit.  Specially, in football where players have greater chance of injury.  I would think they would be the first one to adopted.  decreasing the changes of player injury helps the team and the player as well.
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