What impact does technology and the use of computers have on sports? While there may not be a simple answer, analytics, which is defined as the systematic computational analysis of data or statistics, is changing the way computers are used in the world of sports. As technology is quickly taking over our world, data analytics is following right behind. Around every corner, new technology is improving our day-to-day life by making it easier and faster. Little do most people know, just like technology, analytics are everywhere and helping us on a daily basis. When you’re watching your favorite baseball or football game, your experience is made easier by the help of technology and its ability to analyze data quickly. In most cases, a fan would be lost watching a game if there was not a little box at the bottom of the screen keeping score. They can even help your favorite player get drafted to a professional team, or help your team recruit the best possible players. In an article titled Analytics in Sports: The New Science of Winning, Thomas Davenport states that “There are multiple analytical domains to address, including game and player performance, player selection, customer relationships, business management, injury prevention, and so forth” (Davenport 2). Professional sports teams and even some collegiate ones are using analytics more and more to make decisions and get a leg up on their opponents. It is important to understand that “while analytics has not and will not replace strong players and good coaching as recipes for team success, they have certainly become established as important augmentation for those basic success factors” (Davenport 5). Whether we discuss basketball, football, baseball, golf, tennis, or hockey, analytics have been used to impact sports in countless ways.
The National Basketball Association (NBA) has been using data analytics for over ten years now and every team has at least one data analyst on staff. Technology and analytics are mainly used in three specific ways when it comes to the NBA: developing winning strategies, forecasting and avoiding player injury, and scouting. Every NBA stadium has six cameras with the purpose of tracking, collecting, and analyzing every player’s movements. Before these high-tech cameras, teams used to only gather basic information like points scored by each player. Now coaches can look at a person’s footwork or specific movements that give away what they are going to do next and use this data to position their players more effectively. Thomas Davenport writes that “Across all professional sports, the frontier source of data is clearly video” (Davenport 7). At an analytics conference in 2020, it was announced that NBA data is collected most often using cameras that record all movements of the players on the court as well as ball movement up to 25 times per second (NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver). The use of data analytics is very evident in the NBA, which seems to be using technology to their advantage more than any other professional sports.
“Another frontier data source for the player and team performance is locational and biometric devices. These include GPS devices, radiofrequency devices, accelerometers, and other types of biometric sensors” (Davenport 8). Wearable sensors are not new to the basketball scene, many high-level players have been wearing them to track speed, endurance, and intensity. More recently, in this year’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) March Madness Tournament bubble, athletes were given small devices in order to limit and prevent the possible spreading of the coronavirus. Each member of the team is given a “SafeTag”, which is to be worn at all times during practices and games. Every device has a distinctive ID number, assigned to each player and they are to be worn on their wrist, neck, or in their shorts. This makes the process of contact tracing very simple and fast in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. The NCAA even put out a statement at the end of 2020 saying, “Players and specific staff members, such as coaches – will be required to wear Kinexon SafeZone contact sensor devices on the team plane, the team bus, during practices, and to and from the arena or their home practice facility” (Holmes 1). Many of the athletes were on board with the use of these devices if it meant it would help to keep everyone healthy and allow them to compete. If it weren’t for technology and analytics always evolving with the world around us, this global pandemic could have taken away people’s ability to watch what they love, sports.
When a fan sits down to watch their favorite football team, they are typically only worried about which team is going to come up victorious. All the time and effort put into the win does not even occur to most. Even the plays that the team ran based on the opponents’ strengths and weaknesses that were most likely developed after watching hours of film do not cross the minds of most spectators. If it weren’t for 20 cameras flying through the air and the huge production staff behind the scenes, there would not even be a televised game to watch. Analytics about a certain star player on the other team can be beneficial in trying to defend him or creating new plays in preparation. In an interview with Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert he emphasizes, “We have all this information but so does everyone else. What advantage does it give us to get it? None. It’s what we do with it, the way we use it. It’s no different than when we go sit at the combine and get all the same information. It’s about finding an advantage in what we do with it.” NFL teams have it more difficult in terms of analyzing data because they only play 16 games in a season where other professional sports teams play 80 to 160 games. This may be the reason data analytics are still being adapted to the National Football League (NFL).
The speed that a Major League Baseball (MLB) pitcher throws the ball is tracked by radar, just like how a police officer knows when someone is speeding on the highway. A pitcher’s motion can have severe effects on their arms but with the use of technology, researchers “designed a device that monitors a player’s movements to analyze their pitching posture” (King 1). The device uses the information gathered from the pitcher to help them change their motion in order to reduce pain while on the mound. The same researchers also developed an arm sleeve that tracks the stress put on the pitcher’s arm. The goal surrounding these gadgets is to keep pitchers safe and able to pitch longer with limited to no pain. Analytics can also have a negative effect; some batters have changed their swing in hopes of hitting more home runs. In an article titled Has baseball analytics killed the art of hitting by David Lengel it says, “many players have made the choice to swing upwards in order to maximize their chances for extra base hits. This has led to sinking batting averages, staggering strikeout totals and most disturbingly, less contact, which results in considerably less action on the playing field” (Lengel). The lack of player activity on the field could cause fans to become bored, which in turn could decrease baseball’s popularity.
Analytics in live sporting events is an important aspect of many sports, but in baseball it is used very often. Some broadcasting channels have electronic strike zones projected over home plate and record the location of every pitch of the at-bat. Another analysis that can be calculated while the game is going on, is a scatter plot of where the batter has hit the ball or where the batters are most likely to hit the ball based on the pitcher. These statistics are always changing based on the situation, making the computers have to process the information quickly and efficiently. “I think the discovery of new analytics is never-ending. I think there will always be things to research, always new discoveries that we make in baseball alone, let alone all the other sports” (Lashbrook).
When many people think about the sport of golf, the first thing that comes to mind would likely not be the use of technology. However, professional golf has adapted like many of the other sports mentioned. For example, the idea for a ball tracking system, called ShotLink was first developed in 1983. With the improvement of technology came along an improved ShotLink “that aimed to break down every detail of every stroke taken by every player to facilitate the analysis of each player’s round and overall performance” (Arastey). Another new upgrade made by the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) is the installation of high-resolution cameras that track the ball while in the air. This benefits the viewers at home, who can now clearly see the ball on their televisions. Currently, ShotLink’s “data feeds are accessed by broadcasters as well as top-flight players, who use the statistics from the system to analyze, compare their performance against competitors, and improve their play” (Arastey). This makes it easier for the professional golfer to tweak their swing and even prepare for their next tournament.
Tennis is yet another sport that has been impacted by analytics. Just like other sports, athletes can use technology and analytics to improve their movements and performance. The speed of a serve or return can be instantly generated using speed guns like in baseball. Tennis players are now able to analyze their opponents’ play before even stepping on the court. Coaches also use the information gathered by statistics to better coach their players before each match. Since technology and analytics are slowly being introduced to tennis,“it’s still a bewildering array of colorful graphs and rising flood of figures that coaches and players—who are rarely stats buffs—now have to look at and understand” (Tandon). Just like the other sports tennis use of analytics and statistics seems to be growing in popularity.
Hockey pucks have come a long way since when they were first introduced, recently they have been manufactured with tracking devices installed. Additional trackers are also placed in the shoulder pads of players. With hockey being one of the fastest sports in the world, sensors are positioned all around the rink, in order to obtain information such as position, speed, direction, and distance. An article about hockey analytics written by Michael Chen states,
Consider that the chips involved deliver data points at about 200 times per second, all across the categories stated above. Now combine that with five skaters and a goalie per each team and 60 minutes per game, and that’s a lot of data points, especially because skater data must be consolidated between who’s currently on the ice and who’s on the bench. In fact, crunching the numbers shows that 60 minutes of gameplay will create roughly 9,360,000 logged events per category in an NHL game that ends in regulation. (Chen)
That amount of data would be impossible for humans to analyze and process, but thanks to technology and computers, it is now possible.
Technology and analytics can be very useful in sports since “There are multiple analytical domains, including game and player performance, player selection, customer relationships, business management, injury prevention, and so forth” (Davenport 2). However, it is important to note that “Full advantage from player and team performance analytics would seem to come only when all the coaches and players on a team embrace analytics and use them to enhance their performance” (Davenport 12). We have seen analytics change the way professional and some collegiate sports are being played; so how far are we from the more widespread use of data analytics in college and maybe even high school sports? In our society today, it is much easier for regular people to get a hold of some of the high-tech gadgets used by professional athletes, so what will the professional leagues begin doing in the coming years to set themselves apart from the amateurs?
Arastey, Guillermo, and Guillermo Arastey. “The Increasing Presence Of Data Analytics In Golf | Sport Performance Analysis”. Sport Performance Analysis, 2021, https://www.sportperformanceanalysis.com/article/increasing-presence-of-data-analytics-in-golf.
Chen, Micheal. How Hockey Is Embracing Big Data And Analytics. 2021, https://blogs.oracle.com/bigdata/how-hockey-is-embracing-big-data-and-analytics. Accessed 28 Mar 2021.
Davenport, Thomas. “Competing On Analytics: The New Science Of Winning Davenport”. Journal Of Information Technology Case And Application Research, vol 15, no. 4, 2013, pp. 59-61. Informa UK Limited, doi:10.1080/15228053.2013.10845729.
Holmes, Baxter. “NBA To Require Players To Wear Contact Sensors”. ESPN.Com, 2021, https://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/30628788/nba-require-players-wear-sensors-part-contact-tracing.
King, Tierney. “Baseball Technology Helps Improve Pitching To Alleviate Injuries | Medical Design And Outsourcing”. Medical Design And Outsourcing, 2021, https://www.medicaldesignandoutsourcing.com/baseball-technology-helps-improve-pitching-to-alleviate-injuries/.
Lashbrook, Lynn. “Why Baseball Analytics Matters And How You Can Make It Into A Career”. Sportsmanagementworldwide.Com, 2021, https://www.sportsmanagementworldwide.com/content/why-baseball-analytics-matters-and-how-you-can-make-it-career.
Lengel, David. “Has Baseball Analytics Killed the Art of Hitting?”. The Guardian, 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2018/oct/02/has-baseball-analytics-killed-the-art-of-hitting.