As the home-town favorite steps up to the free throw line to decide the game, the crowd subdues to an eerie silence. In the stands, fans slide towards the edge of their seats in anticipation. For those watching at home, they see different statistics pop up on the screen: how many free throws he’s taken tonight, how many he’s made, his free throw percentage in clutch situations. However, on the sidelines, the coaching and training staff are preoccupied in a different way. They are looking at biometric data generated from a small band on the player’s wrist. They believe that this data – the player’s heart rate, skin temperature, and his pulse – will reveal crucial insights into how their star’s body operates and will present them with ways to maximize his performance.
If you don’t know where you’re going, where do you begin? With analytics, a first step is data. Data scientists often find themselves in this situation when they are assigned exploratory research tasks. For Davidson classmate Kendall Thomas ’19 and I, our internship last summer with Athlete Intelligence began this way.
In basketball, you often hear of players that have the “intangibles” or a “knack for the ball.” Some might not fill up the box score with points, rebounds, and assists, but still get consistent playing time because they help the team.
One of the most well-known applications of data analytics in sports is Billy Beane’s unconventional approach to organizing a competitive professional baseball team. Later popularized by the book and movie Moneyball, the story exemplifies the power of data analytics and provides insight into the field’s transition from a criticized amateur approach to an integral component of a team’s success.
As I was walking out of my 9th grade pre-calculus class at Dexter School on the way to lunch, I heard Ms. Lowell call my name. “George, have you ever heard of computer science? I think you’d love it!”
What was computer science? Like building computers? I was currently struggling with my introduction to engineering class, so I quickly shrugged off the thought.
Header image courtesy of Davidson College