Technology in professional sports in my opinion can be a huge asset in leagues that are moving and growing faster each and every day. Coaches are being asked to turn failing teams around and make them contenders almost overnight. Technology brings so many benefits and teams almost have no choice but to have the best information technology leaders they can find. Many teams even employ their own programmers who write software and code almost daily in an effort to help provide decision makers with the best and most accurate information possible.
What is the human role in technology and is it a hindrance or a blessing? Have you ever heard the term “garbage in garbage out”? Technology just doesn’t automatically make something better. Recently the company L.G. introduced a new refrigerator that can track its contents and make a shopping list for you or suggest a recipe for a meal you might cook. This is an awesome capability but if you don’t program the refrigerator correctly with the right contents and if you don’t keep it updated then you are going to have an inaccurate shopping list and recipe suggestions that you won’t be able to use. So what does this have to do with professional sports? Well I am glad you asked. The same thing is true of professional sports team’s use of its technology. If the IT department doesn’t program their technology properly to track its ingredients (Players) then when the coach opens his cook book (Playbook) there won’t be the right ingredients to make the best scoring soup money can buy.
In professional sports today owners are spending lots of money on technology and hiring some of the best programmers, directors, and engineers to help get the most out of technology in an effort to gain an advantage and win more games sooner rather than later. So where is the disconnect and why aren’t teams more competitive when there is so much technology available?
Going back to my reference to garbage in garbage out I believe that to get the most out of technology you have to think differently or you’re going to get the same results. You know what the definition of insanity is right? It’s doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If professional sports teams are hoping to use technology to do those same things that they have always done and expecting to be better because of it then they won’t experience the true power of what technology can do to make them better.
The benefits of technology is really too long to list but to experience that true power, front offices are going to need to start thinking differently and using technology differently. Programmers and analysts are trained to solve a problem and they have it embedded into their heads that when they have a problem to solve they set out to write code or a query to find an answer. The trouble with this way of thinking is that it is too vertical and stove-piped in nature.
The human brain is designed to look at and analyze one thing at a time, as an example an NFL GM who is preparing for the upcoming NFL draft will review lots and lots of data and spend many hours doing it. Chances are that he is looking at video, scouting reports, media reports, school transcriptions, interviews, Sr Bowl information, National Invitational Combine data, etc, and etc the list goes on. I am certain that many if not all IT Departments package and prepare each individual set of data exactly to the GM, coaches, and decision maker’s requirements. Those reviewers will then look at each set of data individually make a determination, assign a grade and move on to the next athlete. To better explain, picture me handing you a clear ziplock bag filled with 1,000 puzzle pieces and I asked you what the puzzle looks like finished before you even put two pieces together. Your reply would be what are you crazy? What if my response was to tell you to open the bag and start looking at each piece individually but without putting them together? Would you then be able to tell me what the puzzle would look like finished? Let’s go a step further, what if I said you could spread all the pieces face up on a table loose and not connected? Could you then be able to tell me what the puzzle was? You might have some ideas or some thoughts based on colors, shapes, and images that you see when you look at them but you would still be guessing right? My point is that until you put all the pieces of the puzzle together you will never know what the finished product will look like.
Building a professional sports franchise is exactly like the previous example of the puzzle pieces. In a recent study I found that a large percentage of athletes drafted into the NFL never make it past their first year on a roster. I honestly believe it’s because of what I am calling the “puzzle syndrome” because players are being drafted to a team where when it comes to fitting them into the puzzle it’s like forcing a round peg into a square hole.
I have spent 15 years supporting the U.S. Army Department of Defense tasked with analyzing future force capabilities against the current force capabilities specifically for the identification of capability gaps, and to provide analytical solutions that will ensure our soldiers get the needed capabilities to the battlefield in a timely manner. In order to advance technically, professional sports franchises are going to have to endure a slight paradigm shift in how they analyze the athletes that they are evaluating and considering for their organization. I’m not talking about money ball type analysis but rather what I am talking about is changing the process of how they interrupt and correlate the data collected. Teams need to stop looking at all the data being collected individually and start looking at the data correlated into a single picture. Data correlation is a common practice in the U.S. Military as a way to collect and analyze intelligence into a single picture that provides much better and usable information that you wouldn’t be able to obtain had you only looked at the data individually. The data correlation approach is much like the puzzle example I described previously but now you’re able to see the puzzle box cover before making a personnel decision. The idea is that you are pulling all data points and grades together in an effort to see how that athlete compares with your team requirements and vision. With Eye-Scout technology you can pull all the data in to a single source and get a true and accurate picture in just seconds.
If professional franchises start to employ the Eye-Scout correlated data process to their athletic evaluations I believe that the number of athletes that never make a roster or last beyond the first year will decrease significantly because only players that fit the team’s needs and vision would be selected. This would create a ripple effect because now training camps would be even more competitive, and team chemistry would be better which would translate into a team that is devoted to the plan at hand. Owners would be happier because there would be less roster turn over which would translate into less money wasted on failed talent. Truly this approach is a win win situation for everyone because it would increase all team’s effectiveness making the entire league more competitive which makes for closer more exciting games played each week. I don’t have to tell you that more competitive and exciting games will sell more tickets.