Quantified Athletes: Reducing Injuries through Analytics

Those of you who attended the IOD conference back in 2011 were treated to an interview with author Michael Lewis and Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, of Moneyball fame (amongst many other achievements).

One comment that’s stuck with me was a question tossed in at the very end of the interview.  Billy Beane was asked how it’s possible to still get a competitive advantage from the type of statistical advantages he discovered, now that everyone was on to the approach (and, as he commented, now that the Yankees have 21 statisticians on staff.)  He commented that an area he was going to be looking into was injury management.  Just like he discovered that the best way to make use of the precious few 3 outs a team gets each inning was to get as many players on base as possible, a team’s players – and their health – is another limiting resource.  Making sure that your players spend as little time as possible on the disabled list can work out to be a big competitive advantage.

Now I will say up front that I have no idea whether Billy Beane is actually pursuing this avenue.  But I did come across an interesting post over on the Smarter Planet blog that highlights how IBM is helping the Australian Rugby NSW Waratahs team minimize their injuries.

Rugby is nothing if not a physically demanding sport, and as Haydn Masters, the Athletic Development Coach for the team notes, it’s typical for 1 in 4 players to be injured at some point in the season.  The team is now collecting between 100-250 data variables per player and analyzing it to find patterns of preventable injuries.

This data comes from multiple sources.  A GPS tracker is fitted to each player to measure and monitor intensity levels, collisions, and fatigue during training and matches, and is combined with data from medical screenings, wellness reports and player stats.
Analyzing this data allows us to build a clear picture of what’s really going on; finding patterns of where preventable injuries occurred; identifying the early warning signs; and how we could prevent them. These predictive insights give us a critical opportunity to anticipate an injury and change the variables, including modifying the training regime, or resting a player, to make the chance of injury much less likely.


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