Some people like to say “it’s the taking part that counts,” but let’s face it, that’s crap. Competitive sports these days are all about the winning, with huge stacks of cash being the primary motivating factor. It’s true for athletes, coaches and team owners alike – sure, the ‘taking part’ might be ‘nice’, but the money that comes from actually winning is far more satisfying.
With money being such a huge motivating factor in modern sports, teams and players will do whatever it takes to win. Sometimes, this means resorting to questionable methods like taking performance enhancing drugs, bribing officials, or just plain, outright cheating. But recently, some competitors have been taking a more innovative approach to give them an edge in sports. They’re using big data.
Big data in soccer
Soccer’s always been a tricky game to quantify for stat lovers. Unlike with American sports where facts and figures have always had a big influence on tactical decisions and player selections, soccer coaches instead have to rely on their intuition. Soccer is a game that relies on nuance and flow, its vitality comes from what happens in between the gaps of what few stats there are.
Passes, shots, dribbles, tackles, saves – these are the main components of the game – but when you have ten different people with ten different opinions over what counts as a ‘dribble’ or a ‘pass’, even these basics become hard to quantify.
But Americans just can’t get away from their stats, and so to appease them, Adidas has come up with the Micoach Elite System, a revolutionary new technology that has the potential to change the face of soccer as we know it.
Starting next year, Major League Soccer (MLS) players will all be fitted with a Micoach chip attached to their jerseys. The chip monitors a player’s speed, power and endurance, and then transmits more than 200 data records in real-time to a central information hub (which could be an iPad, or even a smartphone), presenting coaches with a clear view of the physical and psychological condition of each player out on the pitch.
The potential to change the game is awesome. Coaches will be able to better monitor the physical exertion of each of their players, during training sessions and games, identifying who needs extra work, and who needs to be rested. They’ll be able to spot or possibly even prevent injuries by monitoring a player’s baseline, while they’ll also be able to perform direct comparisons of each player’s physical condition, which could aid in both team selection and substitutions.
Micoach is by no means the definitive solution for soccer coaches – its readings have little to do with the technical and tactical skills, or the vision and intuition that is so important for soccer players – but for the MLS’s brightest soccer coaches, it has the potential to make a BIG difference.
Big Data in Formula One
There’s more to Formula One success than daredevil drivers and grade A mechanics. Just as important for any F1 team’s hopes of attaining pole position at the starting grid are its IT systems.
Modern F1 cars come fitted with a whole bunch of electronic goodies, and these pump out huge amounts of data on everything from the car’s oil levels, to the pressure of its tyres, and even the position of all the parts that make up its gearbox. All this happens in real time, and in the case of the Caterham F1 team, whenever their cars are involved in a race, all that data is sent back to its trackside supercomputer via a 4 Mbps broadband connection.
The data that Caterham F1 collects is important both on race days and also for their research. During the race, the data allows the team’s engineers to monitor every aspect of the car to ensure it’s running at tip-top condition, using it to calculate the best time to make pit stops, and to spot potential problems before the happen.
But it’s the research aspect that’s more important. Running complex software, the team can perform all kinds of diagnostics, such as simulating wind tunnels to aid them in designing their aerodynamics.
Caterham F1 considers its data to be absolutely vital to its success, to the point that its invested millions of dollars in the latest Dell infrastructure, including storage, servers, networks and client-side technology, together with an Intel high-performance computer cluster (HPC), to ensure that its hardware never lets it down.
As the head of Team Caterham F1, Bill Peters, explains: “On race day, we’re entirely reliant on our trackside IT. Quite simply, if it fails, we can’t race.”