[GUEST BLOG] ACU High Performance Sport Summer Seminar 2019: Data Analytics (By Jordan Cassidy)

The Australian Catholic University recently held a High Performance Sport Summer Seminar which was attended by Jordan Cassidy who agreed to provide a write up of the seminar for the blog. The write up will be split into two parts with this article focusing on the data analytics side and the second article is on Jo Clubb’s Sports Discovery site focusing on Coaching and Leadership in Sport.

Jordan (@Jordy_Cass ) is currently a National Performance Coach with the Hong Kong Rugby Union and has experience across a number of sports. Any text in italics below are additional comments by the blog and not Jordans.

I was fortunate enough to attend this two day conference in Melbourne over the 5/6th of February. It was a valuable learning experience for me and there were many take home messages. I want to say thanks to all of the presenters who spoke and all the staff at ACU who put the event together, in particular Stu Cormack, Rich Johnson and Emma Grella.

Data in Sport – Dr. Heidi Thornton (@heidithornton09)

Heidi is currently the sport scientist with the Gold Coast Suns Australian Football League team.

I took a lot of value from this presentation as I have a very similar role to Heidi, albeit in a different sport and country! 

Two must-read papers that Heidi brought up early on were:

Heidi explained communication of data is a vital aspect of her role, where she must translate her findings to key stakeholders such as the High Performance Manager, Physiotherapist, Coaches and Players. This may mean a separate report for each depending on the needs of each person or group. This is especially true in the case of players and coaches where every interaction and conversation is an opportunity to educate. This is a crucial approach to have with regard changing mindsets. One big presentation or talk at the start of the season is not going create a sustainable change, but a consistent message over time will. Every conversation with a player or group of players is an opportunity to hammer home that message and lead to a deeper understanding (Nudge theory is worth reading in relation to this).

Heidi made a fantastic point that really resonated with me (and hopefully any other sports scientists as naïve as I have been previously!). I have often worried about collecting data from players (GPS, wellness etc.), drawing an insight from it but ultimately not influencing decisions. Simply doing a good job – delivering data reports of high quality that are simple and easy to read, and giving them to the coach/stakeholder will influence decisions. (This is also a really important point when it comes to ensuring buy-in/cooperation from players, if they see no value or action as a result of GPS/HR/Wellness etc. why should they continue to use them?)

Heidi ended with 5 key points for sports scientists to implement:

  • Build trust
    • With players, coaches and other key stakeholders.
  • Put everything in game context:
    • Give players/coaches an idea of how training links to games. Peter Tierney (@petertierney93) spoke on a recent Pacey Performance podcast (link) about showing a young player he trained at a higher intensity than the upcoming game as a confidence booster.   
  • Common sense must be used
    • Obviously!
  • Technical understanding
    • Technical understanding of the game is important but more refers to measures you use. If a player asks you what Very High Speed Running means, it’s important to be able to explain it clearly and concisely. 
  • Important information only
    • Too much information leads to important information or findings getting diluted or lost. Database many metrics, but report few. If players, coaches or other staff want further information, they can be shown on an individual basis.

Performance Outside The Box – Dr. Mitchell Mooney (@mitch_mooney)

Mitch is currently a Performance Analyst with Netball Australia. Presentation slides available here.

Title slide from Mitch’s presentation

This presentation was highly thought provoking as it was exactly what it was titled – a performance outside the box. There were times where I felt completely out of my depth (which happened more than once over the 2 days!), and if I’m honest I will be thinking about this for a long time before making much sense of it. Mitchell admitted he was jumping from one area to another and not sorry for doing this! He wanted to promote critical thinking and simply showing the dots will encourage us to connect them.

Mitchell spoke about three ways in which new ideas are developed:

  • Exaptation
    • the earliest feathers belonged to dinosaurs for keeping warm, but were later essential for birds to fly
  • Evolution
  • Challenging assumptions.
    • Requires the wisdom to ask if the current way is the right way and is there a better way.
    • It is developing an appreciation of why something did not happen over why something happened.
Image cut from Mitch’s presentation

From the rest of the presentation, the only thing that I could somewhat relate to was Goodhart’s law: “when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to become a good measure”.

To illustrate his point, Mitchell told the story of a player who put his heart rate monitor on his dog during the off season to show he was doing the off-season program; the player was essentially gaming the system.

An issue that came to my mind was the setting of GPS targets for a training session and using them as a measure of success for that session. In a situation like this, players can over-emphasise their physical performance to the detriment of their technical/tactical goals for the session.

As mentioned previously, there is much more to this presentation than I have wrote here, but the good thing is that I have been left with many questions and food for thought to enhance my own abilities as a practitioner.

Some thoughts from reading through the slides:

  • Cynefin framework
    • Coined by Dave Snowden, helps provide a framework to aid sense making (i.e. making sense of something).
    • See here for a video explaining it and here for a Harvard Business Review article about it.
    • Mladen Jovanovich has also spoke/written about using this framework to help design/implement an agile periodisation approach.
  • A common thread I felt I detected throughout the slides was the idea of perspective.
    • That different perspectives are valuable and should not be discounted if they do not match your own.
    • Be aware your own biases will colour your perspective.
    • Have a process/system to in place which helps overcome bias

A Maro View of Sports Analytics – Dr. Jacquie Tran (@jacquietran)

Jacquie is currently a Senior Insights Researcher at High Performance Sport New Zealand. Presentation slides available here.

Slide from Jacquie’s presentation

The final presentation came from Dr Jacquie Tran, who spoke about the role of Sports Analytics in High Performance Sport. Similar to Mitchell’s presentation, there were times I felt out of my depth listening to Jacquie talk but it was good to listen to such an insightful presentation.

Sports analytics can be based off business analytics. To show how the two can have similar principles, Jacquie shared an example from Riley Newman, formerly Head of Data Science for AirBnB. Riley’s role was to link data from various departments to deliver insights. A simplistic example he shared would be that as investment in marketing increased it led to an increase in sales.

A similar example from an S&C perspective may be with medical data – an increase in time spent performing posterior chain strength work led to a reduction in hamstring strains. This analysis is overly simplistic as injuries are multi-factorial, but it illustrates the point that data from each department should merge to identify trends and deliver meaningful insights. 

Slide from Jacquie’s presentation

The ultimate goal of sports analytics is to analyse information, draw insights and deliver these insights to key decision makers. Insights may be things that people did not know previously or that they could not easily see.

Poor analysis consistently confirms opinions/beliefs and Jacquie encouraged anyone working in sports science or sports analytics to be brave in challenging leaders and decision makers. Similarly, don’t be afraid to challenge commonly held beliefs – if you are right, you have helped improve an aspect of the organisations work; if you are wrong, then everyone can have more confidence in those beliefs.

Slide from Jacquie’s presentation

A common theme between Heidi’s presentation and Jacquie’s was the importance of trust and emotional intelligence in delivering insights. This comes down to building relationships, soft skills and investing time to understand what the decision maker wants and what s/he needs.

Thanks to Jordan to providing a great insight into the thoughts of the above presenters. Don’t forget to check out Part II on Sports Discovery

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