Breaking Down the MIT 2016 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference

· 5 min read
Breaking Down the MIT 2016 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference

This past weekend was the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, and if you happened to miss the event - it was full of great information regarding the latest in sport-science, athletics, technology, and analytics. If you don't already have that weekend booked for next year, I would highly recommend you make plans to attend this conference in the future.

Throughout the event, I tweeted the thoughts and conversations I found most interesting. I want to expand on many of the tweets in a longer format than what 140 characters could provide via Twitter. Hopefully, I can provide a greater level of insight than what I wrote on the social media platform.

I truly enjoyed the Basketball Analytics: Hack-a-Stat panel as it was an interesting look at the world of NBA basketball analytics and statistics. With the emergence of technologies in professional sports it was relieving to see that even professional organizations are battling with the implementation of the data gathered from wearable devices and tracking/monitoring data. This has always been a cornerstone behind High Performance - understanding that technologies will help you garner information but we need to have an actionable plan in order to intervene if the data warrants.

A lot of the discussion centered around using sport science and readiness monitoring to determine if athletes are ready to train and compete. One of the largest misconceptions is that readiness monitoring is centered around limiting athletes participation. In reality, it's more about optimizing the athletes ability to produce work when their systems allow for it.

The fear from these technologies often come from the misconceptions that these technologies will invalidate training processes or create limitations on the work we can do as professionals. If you are fearful of utilizing technology to determine an athlete's state of readiness, I would encourage you to tread on. More often, you'll find the largest majority of athletes will be ready to train and compete.

At the end of the day, information is neither "good nor bad"; it is neutral. How we receive that information and put it into actionable sequences can determine whether the information was positive or negative. If it is the off-season phase of training, maybe we do want our athletes to reach a level of functional overreaching to drive a stimulus response for adaptation. However, in the in-season, particularly leading into March Madness, it might be best to use readiness data to dictate intensities and duration of practices to ensure an optimal level of readiness and preparedness.


I especially liked the increased awareness regarding how quality and quantity of sleep can influence an athlete's recovery and readiness. In the NBA, where there are a large number of back-to-back games, it's no doubt why the league has the number of injuries that they do. Thinking about the collegiate environment, when basketball arrives to March Madness, can the athletes withstand and tolerate the physiological loads of 2 games in 72 hours?

Too often in high level organizations, information is collected, assessed, but never shared between stakeholders. It's a common problem at many organizations. One of the biggest things we need to defeat is the problem of siloing information away. The more 'the system' is reliant on other professionals working in collaboration with each other, the biggest hurdle will always be opening up lines of communication between the different departments. This is the battles professional organizations face all the way down to high-school. One of the strategies we've utilized to counteract some of these pitfalls is the creation of an 3rd party performance advisory board that consists of a multidisciplinary group of professionals that routinely weights in on the operations of our program.


Wearable technologies are nothing new and many of us seen the consumer variations coming from a mile away. Work load monitoring was a hot issue among many of the conversations and the discussions ranged from utilization of Catapult Sports' GPS units to SportsVU for the collection of this information.

A large emphasis was placed on making sure that we understand the balance between the performance on the court/training with optimal levels of recovery. In order to get the equation right, the first step is quantifying how much work is actually being done during training and competition. Many of us are still so focused on the performance conditioning aspect of an athlete's fitness that we often miss the fatigue management (recovery) component.

Erik Korem did a great job talking about how High Performance coaches need to deliver value and service to those we serve. While we don't have a product that we can manufacture and sell, we need to responsible to what our industry provides to the "customer". What we do provide is an extraordinary SERVICE to the student-athletes we serve each and every day. It is then our responsibility to deliver value to those athletes in the way we coach, educate, mentor, and train.

Recognizing that elite sport participate bears it's price and there is always a cost of doing business. Flexibility is one of the few qualities that have a tendency to diminish as the game progresses. When looking at the NBA travel schedule and the prevelence of back-to-back games, it's clear why athletes are succumbing to so many soft-tissue injuries.

We've seen and read the stories way too often lately. You attend a professional basketball game only to see your favorite player in a suit and tie on the sidelines. Player load management is at an all-time low currently. Upon hearing this I couldn't help but think about Dr Tim Gabbett's latest research regarding acute vs. chronic workloads.

The training-injury prevention paradox: should athletes be training smarter and harder?

There has to be better management of the workloads that athletes are exposed to rather than a reactionary response that results in the athlete sitting out of the basketball game. Hopefully as more sport-scientists assist with the training parameters, there can be earlier interventions that still allow athletes to optimally prepare for the competition but also be readiness to suit up and play. Is it their practice demands? Maybe. Is it more likely the increased amount of competitions that the NBA schedule demands? Most likely. I don't know of an easy solution but certainly we need to start monitoring and assessing the internal and external physiological loads the athletes are subjected to during their training.

Tracking total minutes doesn't tell the full story but is often the first place to start. Too many times I've tracked minutes played and compared against workloads and seen athletes who played far less minutes but exerted greater player loads. This is where the use of technologies like accelerators and GPS comes in to quantify the player loads of athletes.

For universities and organizations that don't possess these technologies, you have minutes played and sRPE to assess. While these don't tell the full picture, these are the available tools you have.