The use of data to make decisions in sports is nothing new, but the technologies now available to measure athlete performance and interpret data have come a long way. This summer, we interned under the guidance of professor Tim Chartier for Athlete Intelligence, a sports technology and data analytics company headquartered in Kirkland, Washington.
Athlete Intelligence makes wearable devices for athletes, like mouth guards and helmet sensors, that track head impacts and biometric data. These devices provide instantaneous data for each impact during a session, alerting
coaches and training staff if an impact magnitude exceeds a preset threshold or a player surpasses a certain number of hits in a period of time.
This data empowers coaches and trainers to help reduce the risk of injury and to improve performance.
We were fortunate to have a huge data set to examine. The company supplied impact data from high school and college football teams for one or more seasons. For each impact, the devices record the corresponding player, position, head location, magnitude and time.
However, big data brings big challenges: We didn’t know exactly what we were looking for.
As Jesse Harper, CEO of the company said, “This is a mission to Mars. We’ll know what we find when we find it.”
We tried to find “coachable moments”—patterns and insights that might help coaches make real-world changes. For example, one team’s impacts increased towards the end of the game, possibly from fatigue eroding technique. That information—if verified—might allow a team to emphasize conditioning and remind players to keep their heads up when tackling late in games.
We also aimed to enrich the data we were given, asking how we could add data that leads to additional insights. Athlete Intelligence will partner with Davidson women’s soccer this fall, so we asked our soccer coaches what data they currently track and what they would like to track.
In the end, we augmented the data with hours of sleep for each player, weather, elevation, location and type of event (game or practice). Once we collected the data, new insights followed.
We concluded our summer by visiting the company’s headquarters in Kirkland to present our research and discussed how it could enrich the company’s user platform.
Our summer was fascinating and productive. We worked with a new company that exposed us to cutting-edge research—and we traveled to the Seattle area. Even better, our work hasn’t ended. We started the academic year excited to continue our collaboration and make more impacts with our analytics research.