Data – it’s where the sporting action is

Game Theory, the Economist sports blog (a fairly loose description) has had a series of articles recently on how technology is affecting sport. Telemetry (including GPS tracking) is being used in Formula 1, sailing, rugby and football, and looks likely to spread to others. Technology has been a huge influence in tennis, but it looks as if some of the recent increases in ball speed and spin may be down to old fashioned causes: the players improving their technique. With the help of hi-tech training methods, of course.

Some sports are embracing technology as a way of assisting referees and umpires and, presumably, supporting fairness and compliance with the rules; others resist its introduction, worrying that it will undermine referees’ authority (or, on a cynical view, that it will detect non-compliance with the rules). But participants in all sports are using technology to improve their training, strategy and tactics. And the technology they are using is centred on data: collecting it and analysing it.

We’re not just talking about professional athletes in the top teams, either. Many of the ordinary runners I know (myself included) use GPS and heart rate monitors in training. It appeals to the inner geek, apart from anything else.

It’ll be interesting to see how this tendency progresses. My prediction, for what it’s worth, is that top class training will become more and more data intensive, and that all sports will, eventually, be dragged kicking and screaming into the data age. As more and more money depends on the outcomes of sporting events, those involved are going to want the results to depend on the athletes, rather than the officials.


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