Big data analytics a gold mine for sport teams

By Laura Galante, photos by Kio Jørgensen Ng

In the world of sports, technology plays a significant role both on and off the field. The key lies in the collection of big data revolving around players’ performance and physiological characteristics in order to monitor and improve gameplay. In fact, the improvement of players’ strategy in sports such as football resides in the strategic use of big data obtained from monitoring information such as players’ movement, heart rate and position, among multiple other characteristics.

Kommunedata (KMD), a Danish IT solutions and data analytics company, talked about this process during Internet Week Denmark (IWDK), which took place between May 2nd and May 6th, a week full of presentations about the latest technological developments. Just outside Dokk1, KMD spokesperson and chief consultant, Frans Hjorth Hammer spoke about the importance of big data for the improvement of game strategy in sports teams.

Big data and the 2018 World Cup

For the 2018 World Cup starting in June, this technological advancement is more important than ever. For years, data has been collected on Danish football team players’ skills and physiological information and it is only recently that it is being put together to extract patterns and statistical analyses between matches and team players through KMD’s elaborate software.

KMD analyzes data from a variety of sports teams and players in Denmark to advise on most effective playing strategies, says chief consultant Frans Hjorth Hammer (photo: Kio Jørgensen Ng)

However, Denmark has appeared four times in FIFA World Cup history, compared to teams like Italy or Spain. It is evident that football culture varies significantly between countries. Nonetheless, it is the first time that the Danish National Team will make use of data analytics to improve game strategy for the World Cup, says Hammer.

“We cannot compare the Italian league and the English league to the Danish League. They are much more professional,” he says. On the other hand, Denmark has a very technological mind set, which means that building a vast dataset over the last decade holds a lot of potential for improving game strategy and strengthening performance. Now the challenge is connecting it all together.

“The gold is not in the data but between”

Big data is becoming more and more relevant in different situations but what exactly is it? According to KMD, it refers to vast amounts of information that through specific software can be analyzed to identify relevant patterns. It’s information that keeps on building up, growing into extensive networks of data. In sports, it is becoming very useful for coaching.

“We start to map all the data, talk with the coach or director of the club to see the way they want to play,” says Hammer. “After that, we collect and compare some of the data, what kind of players make the goal, what kind of position [they play in].” For example, they use a GPS track to monitor players’ position in the match. This means that a coach doesn’t have to base their decision on gut feeling but actual statistics for better playing strategies.

Internet week Denmark provided an opportunity for people to gain insight on how technology meets real life situations such as sports (photo: Kio Jørgensen Ng)

“We see for example that some teams run long distances, but there is no evidence for their effectiveness; there is no effect on the match,” Hammer explains. This can be observed for instance between the Danish Superliga and Spain’s Real Madrid; The Danish team runs the longest distance compared to Spain, yet it is the Spanish team that won the 2017 Champions League. This data, if put together across matches can give this kind of insight and even affect entire playing strategies.

This is why he proposes that the gold does not lie in the data but between; it depends on the way data is interpreted rather than on the bulk itself. Through histories of heart rate, damage attack, player position and goals scored per game, these values are later connected together not only to inform play strategy but also the effectiveness of the individual player, which also impacts the decision of acquiring certain players for a specific club. Hence, clubs also make informed decisions based on a player’s specific data trove.

The potential for winning a championship such as the 2018 World Cup is beginning not only to depend on player ability but also on the data that monitors it.

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