Beyond Moneyball – The emergence of Coach-led Analytics

A guest blog by The Sports Office Expert Consultant, Dr Bill Gerrard.

The Michael Lewis book, Moneyball, has had a massive impact on sports analytics since its publication in 2003, reinforced of course by the Hollywood movie starring Brad Pitt released in 2011. Moneyball has promoted the possibilities of using data analytics in elite sport to gain a competitive advantage.

Nothing persuades like success and the Oakland A’s in North America’s Major League Baseball have been extraordinarily successful in making themselves competitive with rival teams spending triple their salary costs and more. The 2015 regular season will be the first since 1998 that the A’s will post a win percentage below 50%, an amazing achievement for a team consistently amongst the lowest spenders in the competition.

But once you start digging below the headline message that you can win with analytics, the significance of Moneyball has not yet I believe been fully appreciated. And the reason for this lies in the nature of the original context, baseball. Moneyball detailed how the A’s General Manager, Billy Beane, used data analytics to improve the effectiveness of player recruitment. Beane, influenced by the insights of Bill James and other baseball statisticians [ or sabermetricians], took advantage of the sports’ attachment to conventional metrics for measuring hitter and pitcher performance and started to use statistically superior metrics.

Oakland A's General Manager and sports analytics pioneer, Billy Beane.

Oakland A’s General Manager and sports analytics pioneer, Billy Beane.

On-base percentage [which measures how often a hitter gets to base irrespective of how he gets there] was one such metric, largely ignored by other MLB teams but shown by James to be a better measure of what a hitter contributes to the team’s offence. Beane realised that he could buy wins more cheaply by targeting players with an above-average propensity to be walked to base, an undervalued skill in baseball’s labour market.

So when other teams in other sports tried to follow the Moneyball approach, it was only natural that they should perceive the main contribution of data analytics as supporting the player recruitment function. Thus data analytics largely became the preserve of the front office in sports teams, supporting the GM, the technical/sporting director and the head of scouting. It quickly became an exercise in big-data analytics as teams constructed large databases populated with player performance data covering leagues around the world, over several years.

The use of data analytics to support player recruitment has not been universally accepted and there remains considerable resistance in many teams. One of the main reasons for this resistance is the misapprehension that data analytics offers an alternative to traditional scouting methods. It doesn’t.

Analytics is ultimately about using all available information as efficiently as possible to support decision making. In the specific case of Moneyball it is about using the numbers better by identifying superior metrics. But more generally it is about using all the available information effectively including scouting reports and video. How often is valuable information contained in scouting reports ignored and left to gather dust? And using information effectively necessarily requires construction of a database in which to store all of the information in a systematic way that makes it easy to access and analyse.

A more analytical approach should mean getting much more out of the scouts. If anything Moneyball has been a bit of an albatross in this respect since for dramatic purposes the film highlights the conflict between scouts and analysts, and ignores the reality that most teams with effective player recruitment, including the Oakland A’s, adopt a very systematic, evidence-based approach to scouting that combines data, video and attending games. The New England Patriots in the NFL are a great example of team-specific scouting that pulls together a huge array of information on potential recruits in a very rigorous manner in order to identify not the best players but the players that will best fit the needs of the Patriots and their system of play.

Baseball is a striking-and-fielding sport and as such is highly individualistic with relatively little need for tactical co-ordination between players. Not surprisingly baseball analytics is largely about measuring individual player performance to feed into the GM’s player recruitment decisions. But the significance of Moneyball for other sports goes beyond applying data analytics to player recruitment.

In the invasion team sports such as the various codes of football, rugby, hockey and basketball, the spatial dimension is critical, with players continuously having to make decisions in and out of possession on where to position themselves. Success in the invasion team sports requires tactical co-ordination. Coaching decisions on team selection and game tactics can all benefit from data analysis support, alongside the traditional video analysis. Data analysis can give breadth of coverage to complement the depth provided by video analysis. And just as video analysis is coach-led, with the performance analyst providing video clips on demand, so too with data analysis. Effective data analytics must be coach-led, analysing the available data to meet the needs of the coaches.

Applying data analytics to tactical issues represents one of the leading-edge developments in sports analytics currently. It is this type of analysis that sets apart teams such as the Houston Rockets and the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA. And it is the type of approach that I helped co-produce with the coaching staff at Saracens, one of the leading rugby union teams in Europe.

Over the period 2010 – 2015, Saracens developed a sophisticated internal data collection system in which the coaches and performance analysts analysed all aspects of their games using their own team-specific definitions and including expert evaluations of players’ decision making and technique. I helped identify a comprehensive set of player and team key performance indicators (KPIs) that were tracked across all games. Data analytics was also applied to produce detailed reports on forthcoming opponents, identifying their strengths and weaknesses. This data analysis complemented the video analysis and indeed sought to provide a general context within which the coaches could interpret game videos.

So don’t see Moneyball just as a roadmap on how to do player recruitment more effectively by using statistics rather than scouts. See it as a powerful argument for sports teams embracing an evidence-based approach to all sporting decisions that utilise data analysis alongside video analysis in a coach-led process.

Don’t restrict data analytics to the General Manager’s or Chief Executive’s office particularly in the invasion team sports. Data scientists have as much a role to play on the training ground, supporting the day-to-day decisions of the coaches as performance (i.e. video) analysts and sports scientists. Moneyball is, after all is said and done, a starting point not a destination.

Professor Bill Gerrard works as an expert consultant to The Sports Office.

Our online Performance Management Systems offer a range of functionality to support elite performance, including powerful information management and data analysis capabilities.

Please contact us today to learn more about how our systems can be used to build a robust database; and how to generate insight and intelligence from this, so that sporting organisations can find the winning edge.

Fulham FC join TSO client roster.

Fulham FC have become the latest club to use The Sports Office performance management system.

They join a list of elite soccer organisations that includes clubs from the Barclays Premier League, and the Sky Bet Championship, as well as clubs from the MLS in North America and the A-League, in the southern hemisphere.

“We are delighted that another leading club has chosen us to provide them with an online performance management system”, commented The Sports Office Managing Director Phil Clarke.

“Our successful expansion means we are now becoming the leading provider of systems of this type, to football clubs in the UK.”

Clarke added: ”We believe our performance management systems offer unrivalled functionality and benefits, to help meet the varying demands created by the high-performance sport environment.”

The Sports Office systems provide all clients with a wide range of functionality to support their coaching and performance activities. These including athlete monitoring, sports science, sports medicine, data analytics and information management, as well as coaching and scouting.

Recent enhancements to the system have included the video and medical elements. These developments offer even greater benefits to users, seeking to optimise their preparation and performance activities.

The Sports Office works with many elite football clubs, competing in the world’s most high-profile competitions. These include Manchester City and Chelsea FC, also in the Barclay’s Premier League, Toronto FC in North America’s MLS and Melbourne City in Australia’s A-League.

The Scottish FA have also chosen to use The Sports Office software throughout their structures, including for all their national teams and at all seven of their Performance Schools.

Other clients from elite sport include the RFU, Aviva Premiership clubs, clubs in Rugby League’s Super League and professional cycling teams.

Chelsea FC to use The Sports Office

The Sports Office is delighted to confirm that leading Barclay’s Premier League club Chelsea FC have chosen to use our online performance management system for all first team medical activity.

The club, which is currently top of the League table, will now have access to extensive functionality to manage all medical procedures. This includes a range of medical reports and information for individuals and teams, that can be accessed quickly and easily.

These allow sports medicine practitioners to record, review and audit relevant information relating to treatment, medication and injuries. The Sports Office medical module is also protected by bank level security, ensuring complete integrity and confidentiality.

The Sports Office Operations Manager Rob Jackson commented: “We welcome Chelsea FC to our client roster and we look forward to working with them to ensure that they gain the maximum possible benefit and value from our systems.

“We believe clubs competing at the very top level of global football face a range of complex challenges in the area of sports medicine and we are confident our systems can offer them the required support and thus help them consistently optimise their performance.”

The Sports Office medical module was recently enhanced via the addition of a medication tracking feature, which allows real-time, accurate monitoring of dosages to players and athletes. This new functionality also enables sports medicine practitioners to efficiently manage their medication inventories, as well as offering them the ability to quickly and easily carry out audits of current medication practices.

Detailed medication reports can be generated and the system can send e-mail notifications, which act as prompts and reminders for treatment and other medical activity.

The Sports Office works with many elite football clubs, competing in the world’s most high-profile competitions. These include Manchester City, also in the Barclay’s Premier League, Toronto FC in North America’s MLS and Melbourne City in Australia’s A-League.

The Scottish FA have also chosen to use The Sports Office’s software throughout their structures, including for all their national teams and at all seven of their Performance Schools.

Other clients from elite sport include the RFU, Aviva Premiership clubs, clubs in Rugby League’s Super League and professional cycling teams.

The Sports Office enhances video functionality

The Sports Office has enhanced the quality of video functionality within its performance management systems (PMS) for elite sport.  The improvements have been implemented by the company’s development team and mean greater quality, speed and efficiency for all users.

The Sports Office’ desktop systems and the accompanying mobile apps, make extensive use of video to provide support for coaching and preparation. This includes the distribution of video clips to athletes’ and players’ personal devices for performance review and competition preparation. The latest enhancements ensure these vital processes will be fully optimised.

“By upgrading the video functionality within all our systems, we are adding an additional level of quality assurance and service for our clients in high-performance sport“, said Rob Jackson, Operations Manager at The Sports Office.

“The use of online video for performance review, preparation and wider coaching activities plays a vital role in elite sport. It is crucial that the experience is consistent, efficient and trouble-free for all users.”

Rob Jackson added:“We believe our systems will now provide increased effectiveness and create additional benefits for all those involved in the sports performance cycle.”

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Significantly, the improved functionality will enable coaching, medical & sports science personnel using The Sports Office to quickly and easily upload video from mobile devices in any file format with no encoding required. This can be done from the training field, the gym, or the match/competition venue and hence improves the system’s overall value as a coaching tool.

It will also offer “throttled” video playback to provide the best user experience, regardless of the connection speed.

The Sports Office provides online performance management systems to organisations and teams operating at the highest-levels of elite sport, including world football, professional cycling, tennis and rugby union and league.

Any sporting organisations wishing to know more about the new functionality or the broader capabilities of The Sports Office’ performance management systems should contact our client management team.

New medication tracker enhances Sports Office systems

The Sports Office development team has enhanced the functionality of the medical module, within the performance management systems they provide to elite sport.

A medication tracking feature has been introduced, which allows real-time, accurate monitoring of dosages to players and athletes.

The new functionality also enables sports medicine practitioners to efficiently manage their medication inventories, as well as the ability to quickly and easily carry out audits of current medication practices.

Detailed reports can be generated and the system can send e-mail notifications, which act as prompts and reminders for treatment and other medical activity.

“We believe this enhanced functionality can deliver significant benefits for all sports medicine practitioners, using our performance management systems.”, commented Rob Jackson, Operations Manager at The Sports Office.

“Excellence in sports medicine is regarded as a key element of any successful high-performance sport organisation, and these improvements to our systems offer comprehensive support for the delivery of these vital services.

“We look forward to working with our clients to help them derive the greatest possible value from these powerful new features.”

The new medical functionality has been integrated into all systems provided by The Sports Office to organisations and teams operating at the highest-levels of sport, including world football, professional cycling, tennis and rugby union and league.

Any elite sporting organisations wishing to know more about the new functionality or the broader capabilities of the Sports Office performance management systems should contact our client management team.

Also, for a brief overview of some other features of our medical modules, watch this video.

The Sports Office nominated for Sports Technology Awards

The Sports Office online performance management system for elite soccer, “the football squad”, has been shortlisted as a finalist in the 2015 Sports Technology Awards. The nomination is in the team category of “Best support technology for managers and coaches”.

The shortlisting means the company is in contention for the overall award, alongside five other leading organisations, including Cricket Australia. The Sports Technology Awards aim to recognize and celebrate the increasingly important role that technology plays in sport and highlight successful technological innovation, across all aspects of the sector.

“We are pleased to have received this shortlisting for ‘the football squad’ and we look forward to the announcement of the main award, later this year “, said The Sports Office Director Phil Clarke.

“Our fundamental objective when developing our systems for football, rugby and a range of elite sports is to help players and athletes to optimise all aspects of preparation and performance.

“We employ the principle that coaching and support staff should not be overwhelmed by technology.“

Clarke added: “We believe we have created a solution, which is adaptable to meet the challenge provided by the ever-increasing and sophisticated demands of elite football and high performance sport. The evolving challenges provided by sports science, sports medicine and evidence based approaches to preparation, require that those involved at the top level can draw on a powerful support tool”.

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The Football Squad is an online performance management system. It links departments within a sporting organisation, allowing effective use of data and management information, to generate insight and performance intelligence. It provides extensive functionality which supports coaching, video-usage, sports science, sports medicine, scouting and recruitment, squad management and communication.

It also allows for the individualisation of preparation for team sports and the creation of detailed personalised performance plans.

The judging panel for the Sports Technology Awards comprises high-profile figures, drawn from across international sport, each of whom is asked to assess work which falls within their area of expertise.

The winners of each award category will be announced on Friday 27th March 2015, in London.

 

“Historic building” to be new HQ for The Sports Office

Following a period of expansion and successful business development, both in the UK and overseas, The Sports Office is to move its headquarters to the historic Wigan Hall.

The company, which supplies online performance management systems to elite sports organisations throughout the world, will transfer its offices to the site, near Mesnes Park in the town. Wigan Hall was recently purchased from the Diocese of Liverpool and is Grade II Listed. It was designed by celebrated architect George Street, whose work includes the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

The Sports Office will convert the building for use by their development and coding team as well as the client management and administration teams. They have pledged to work closely with all appropriate bodies to ensure any restoration does not damage or detract from the building’s historical significance.

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”We have always been proud of Wigan as our home town and we relish this opportunity to restore what is a fascinating building and bring it back into beneficial use”, said Phil Clarke, Director of The Sports Office.

“We appreciate our local history and heritage and we have a strong desire to see Wigan Hall brought back to life in the right way.”

Clarke added: “Although our business is relatively new, we are experiencing healthy levels of growth and we are proud to be able to provide even more employment opportunities for people from the local area.

“We will work closely with the appropriate bodies to ensure our restoration of Wigan Hall does nothing to detract from or damage its historical significance”.

Restoration and conversion work will begin at Wigan Hall in December 2014.

The Sports Office provides online performance management systems, used across elite sport, which offer a range of functionality to support coaching, athlete/player performance, administration, health and wellbeing, recruitment, squad management and a mobile athlete app.

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The Sports Office’s dedicated software for elite football is currently used by leading clubs in the Barclay’s Premier League, the Sky Bet Championship, the MLS in the United States and Australia’s A-League, as well as major football governing bodies, including the Scottish FA.

The company also supplies many high-profile organisations in professional rugby including the RFU and various Super League teams, including Wigan Warriors.

In both rugby and football, The Sports Office provides client support for implementation and training, meaning that clubs and organisations can easily begin using the systems without additional staff recruitment.

Groundbreaking analytics expert joins The Sports Office

Leading sports analytics expert Professor Bill Gerrard has joined The Sports Office as they continue to enhance the Analytics module of their performance management software.

Gerrard – who is Professor of Business and Sports Analytics at Leeds University Business School, and holds a UEFA ‘B’ coaching licence – will provide strategic leadership in this specific area , ensuring the Sports Office continues to enhance its coach-led approach. He is well known for his pioneering activity within this rapidly developing discipline, and has worked with US baseball icon Billy Beane, who himslef is regarded as the man who first embraced a more analytical, evidence-based approach in elite sport.

“We are delighted that Professor Bill Gerrard will join The Sports Office team, to work with us as a consultant”, commented Phil Clarke. “Bill is rightly regarded as a pioneer and one of the pre-eminent thinkers in this area.

“He will oversee our programme at three levels from initial exploratory data analysis to more forensic investigation and ultimately the development of bespoke analytical tools to assist performance management at all levels.”

Clarke added ”At The Sports Office, we have always recognised the significance and growing importance of analytics in elite sport and we want to assist our clients as they seek to benefit from it.”

“The online performance management systems we supply to elite sporting organisations have previously offered functionality in the area of analytics, data mining and information management. Our partnership with Bill will enable us to develop this even further and remain at the forefront in this field; and to identify and incorporate emerging trends and ideas that will positively influence the high-performance environment.”

Professor Bill Gerrard also added: ”I’m excited by the opportunity to work with The Sports Office and their clients to develop coach-led analytics to use performance data as effectively as possible.”

Gerrard pioneered statistical analysis in football in the 1990s, using evidence based methods to value players. In collaboration with Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland A’s, Gerrard explored the feasibility of applying the “Moneyball” approach in Major League Soccer.

Bill has also worked with several of the leading football clubs in the UK.

In the world of professional rugby, Professor Gerrard has also worked for the last five years as technical analyst with leading Aviva Premiership club Saracens. Again his approach and methods were credited with significantly enhancing coaching, preparation and performances.

Brendan Venter, the World Cup winning South African rugby player and former Director of Rugby at Saracens described Gerrard’s work as “seen by the entire club as a unique point of difference that has made Saracens one of the leading clubs in European rugby.”

To learn more about how The Sports Office’s powerful online performance management systems can support sports analytics, as well as the full range of funcationality they provide to support preparation and performance at elite level, please contact our Client Management Team.

The Sports Office to attend IRB World Rugby Conference and Exhibition

The Sports Office is to attend the International Rugby Board’s (IRB) second World Rugby Conference and Exhibition (IRB World Rugby ConfEx) – which takes place on November 17th and 18th in London.

The company will be represented by members of its Client Management team, within the Exhibition area.  The event will also feature the IRB Medical Commission Conference, alongside various group discussions and workshops.

“We are delighted to be participating in the IRB World Rugby Conference and Exhibition”, commented Phil Clarke, Director of The Sports Office.

“With the start of the Rugby World Cup less than a year away, this prestigious event will provide a great opportunity for us to meet with many key figures and decision-makers in world rugby, and understand the important, emerging trends within the industry.”

Clarke added:”We look forward to discussing the key issues relating to optimising performance in elite rugby and outlining how our powerful performance management systems can support this.

“We are also relishing the opportunity to gain further insight from the Medical Commission Conference which  will no doubt be an important element of the wider event.  We currently work in partnership with the RFU to support their cutting-edge sports medicine and injury monitoring programmes and thus we have a significant interest in this area.”

RFU Chief Medical Officer Simon Kemp also commented: “The Sports Office provides a whole-league comprehensive electronic player medical record with an integrated injury surveillance function. It’s fundamental to the delivery of sports medicine care to our Premiership and England rep team players.

“Our players, medical staff and performance teams all derive significant benefits”.

The World Rugby ConfEx was launched by the IRB in 2013 with the aim of bringing together the global Rugby family and maximise opportunities for all involved in the sport. The inaugural event saw representatives from over 100 National Unions among the 600 delegates, and over 30 international exhibitors.

Speakers including Patrick Hickey (President of the European Olympic Committees), George Gregan (former Australia captain), Agustin Pichot (IRB Council Member for Argentina) and British Olympic Association Chairman, Lord Coe have previously appeared at the event.

The Sports Office mobile app enhancements

The Sports Office is finalising the development of a number of enhancements for its mobile app for smartphones and tablets.

This new functionality makes the powerful features of the app even easier and quicker to access for coaches, performance staff and players. The improvements have been added by our experienced programming team after an extensive research and development process.

The app allows players to view personalised videos at a time of their choosing, on their own devices. This flexibility and convenience improves the effectiveness of these key elements in the preparation cycle.

Athletes can also use the app to provide information such as daily well-being and to view training schedules and diary commitments. Coaches and performance staff can gain access to key data and management information regardless of their location and can monitor athlete usage of the system, giving them reassurance that their squads are adhering to agreed personal development plans.

The Sports Office mobile app is compatible with iOS, Android and Windows devices. It is already widely used by clubs in Premier League football, International football federations, Premiership Rugby Union clubs and a range of other elite sporting organisations.

Any of our current clients or anybody with an interest in understanding more about the new functionality should contact our client management team.