“As a general rule, the most successful man in life is the man who has the best information” – Benjamin Disraeli
In my opinion, the importance of information relies in its objectivity: information without knowledge is nothing, but info is a concrete starting point on which you can base your future reasoning.
Regarding sport, it’s mainly about performances. Knowing exactly the athletes’ conditions allows coaches to plan their workouts focusing on the specific targets that they need to achieve.
One of the first pioneers of statistics applied to sport was Charles Reep, an accountant with a great passion for soccer.
Reep was an analyst who focused his efforts on English soccer, searching for schemes in the player’s movements on the field.
In the 50’s, he analyzed more than 2200 matches, writing down on his agenda every single passage, shot, penalty and every aspect of the game that could affects the results of the studies.
The results drove him to formulate what is known as “the theory of the long ball”: He discovered that the average number of attempts needed to score was around 9 shots, and that 80% of the goals scored came from actions where the ball crossed the whole soccer field with no more than 4 passes between the players. The study points out that the counterattack seems to be the most effective way to score, and English soccer has always been characterized by this theory.
Even if Reep’s studies have never been turned into a theorem (and it will never be according the uncertain nature of soccer), the effectiveness of its method cannot be neglected because it’s just the objective consideration on how soccer was.
The key point is that through the study of science and sport, researchers have developed a greater understanding on how the human body reacts to exercise, training, different environments and many other stimuli (like schemes, line ups), so they have the ability to leverage those findings.
I would like to draw attention on Reep’s struggle in collecting all of this data without the support of any technology. Today there are many companies whose metrics are essential for trainers and clubs:
Past article was about Zebra technologies, who provided their RFID Technology to NFL’s clubs and media; the importance of their product for clubs can be easily understood once you know that every single stadium of the NFL adopted their product.
Another example is Prozone which “provides next-generation performance solutions to meet the needs of sports teams, leagues and federations across a range of sports, focusing on the areas of performance analysis, athlete monitoring and squad management” (as they describe themselves on their website). Actually they track more than 180.000 athletes (850+ clubs).
Those examples were just to give a quick sight at the dimension of the business of technology applied to sport.
I’d like to share the following video which shows perfectly how performances changed trough years and how Olympics runners’ race times have decreased in the past 100 years.
Again, my intention was not to celebrate the fastest sprinters, but to show you how performances progressively improved in recent history.
The graphic below underlines how the “athlete’s cloud” moved through the Olympics Games, from 1896 with Thomas Burke to the most recent world record achieved by Usain Bolt during the London Olympic Games in 2012.
Science states, with a simple graphic, that there are no athletes far away from the blue line (which reflects the average performance during the passage of time) but the distance from Thomas Burke and Usain Bolt is approximately about 20 m (65 ft), which is a huge detachment for this kind of competition.
What does it mean? We can have phenomenal athletes like Bolt but according to average values, we don’t have miracles of sport, instead training of athletes improved a lot over time.
When you’re trying to achieve perfection, like strength and conditioning coaches of professional athletes have the duty to reach, you have to consider every single aspect that can affect your performance. Moves, breath, training, position, diet, almost everything.
Technology changed everything, making coaches able to see (thus to strengthen) capabilities that in the past years weren’t ever being considered.