July 1, 2014

Winning with Insight, Not Data

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There is an intense global conversation, across most industries, relating to big data at this very moment.

To many, the concept of big data is relatively misunderstood, but without delving into what it is and what it isn’t, let’s look at why big data matters and what it means for sport, particularly in the elite sector.

I have previously written about what data and analysis really means to elite sport, and the conclusion drawn was: Insight. More fully, the exploration of data and analysis with the end goal being a derived understanding of previously unknown factors or ‘insight.’

The basic argument was that it’s not having access to large quantities or diverse sets of data that matters, it’s what we can actually do with the data we have access to. The relational inferences we can draw, the exploration of potentially unknown factors, and the understanding or insight we achieve off the back of the analyses we conduct – this is what truly matters.

Interestingly, the most profound value big data can deliver us is to bring us closer to understanding what is currently unknown, highly uncertain or highly unstable.

And in the context of elite sport, this is the holy grail.

Call it ‘money-ball,’ evidence-based decision making or any other variation, it all means the same thing.

Less guessing.

I am not saying that the intuitive athletic ability of an athlete, or strategic insight of a coach is unimportant. This ‘intangible’ is still as important as ever.

But, what I am saying is that we can significantly increase the probability of enhanced performance, mitigate injury risk (ensure player availability) and ultimately win more games through the correct use of big data.

I know I’m not telling you anything new here. This conversation has been going on for quite some time, but we are yet to see consistent examples across various sports of the true value of big data, especially in the context of achieving key objectives: winning games and winning championships.

This is a high-value problem, or high-value opportunity, depending on how you look at it.

And, because of the size of the problem or opportunity, there are some really smart people developing unique and useful IP as you read this.

The future of elite sport will be somewhat shaped by big data, and ideally the big insight that is derived from the analyses conducted on that data.

Soft tissue injury risk will decrease, more certainty will surround the consistency of athlete performance, and the teams that can combine the best technology, strategy and output with the right athletes for the objectives they want to achieve will win more games – and more championships – than their rivals.

Hopefully the sporting community supports open standards for the capture, aggregation and communication of data, but regardless of that, sport, and in particular elite sport, will be significantly enhanced by technology.

It’s going to be an exciting decade.

What’s your insight strategy moving forward?


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