A carnival of data and performance

10 August 2016

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I spent last weekend watching a carnival of sport on television and like any sporting enthusiast will tell you, it’s been heaven. In my previous career I was captain of England’s Rugby Sevens team, so the feeling you get when all the preparation is over and the competition begins is very familiar to me – a heady mix of nerves, excitement and adrenaline.

These days, I’m more involved with data and analytics than a rugby ball but any big sporting event reminds me that the two aren’t so far apart. Data and analytics have become are a huge part of sport; every element of an athlete’s training – from what they eat to how fast their heart beats – is monitored, analysed and optimised. When I was playing rugby it felt like everything was measured, from my body temperature to where I was on the pitch at any given moment; every part of my training and every move in every game was watched, analysed and understood. Nothing was left to chance.

We have the capacity to collect data on just about any aspect of a sporting event if we want to. We can learn about the level of noise that fans produce and the amount they eat and drink; the organisers can see how well the transport infrastructure has worked. And, of course, each athlete can learn everything there is to know about how well their body is performing.

Technology can deliver a huge amount of data – in my day we used to watch our matches back on VHS tape but now rugby players wear a microchip in their kit which means their own moves can be coded by analysts, isolated and tracked.

In a world where the margins for success come down to milliseconds and millimetres, data matters. But it can never substitute the human effect and the figures don’t always tell the whole truth. That’s why the best coaches – those that make the best use of the data that’s collected – will always make a difference. The same argument applies in the business world; data and analytics help management make better decisions, if used wisely, but they aren’t a substitute for judgement.

In sport and in business, data can only get you so far. Analytics will make an athlete’s preparation as efficient and thorough as possible but it can’t win the race for them. One player in a team might have a terrible game in terms of their own personal data but still win the match for their team. Intelligent use of data will help you reach the levels you have to attain to be the best, but the rest is always up to you.

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