Technoball – Personal Analytics in Sports
In this current environment of lockdowns where live sporting events have taken a backseat, can we instead have a predictive analytics and machine learning models to have a simulation of sporting events and pronounce the results? Sounds far fetched but scratch the surface and it does not sound infeasible at all.
I am sure everyone would have seen the movie ‘Moneyball’ or read the book with the same name; in case you have not, I strongly urge you to do so. It is an account of the Oakland Athletics baseball team’s 2002 season and their attempts to assemble a competitive team. In the film, the team’s management is faced with the franchise’s limited budget for players. They build a team of undervalued talent by taking a sophisticated statistical approach to scouting and analysing players.
This approach has then been replicated in other sports especially NBA and football. In football, Arsenal club through their manager Arsene Wenger was an early proponent of using predictive analytics to scout for future stars. Even recently, it was claimed that Liverpool used a model by a Cambridge physicist to select their manager and eventually win the 2019 champions league.
If this approach is already in vogue, then why discuss it even further here? Simple – the whole theme of this is done by teams/entities with vast budgets and resources at their disposal. How does one individual use this to improve their performance at a certain sport?
I fancied myself as a good batsman and a good snooker player. Despite practicing in the nets for cricket and having a go at the snooker table for extended periods of time, I noticed that my game had improved but not in the exponential increase that I had hoped. I used to have good starts in each game and then used to lose momentum.
I looked at technology to help me and I found that at least for cricket, there is an AI powered bat that is on horizon. This bat is being made in a partnership between Microsoft and the Indian cricketer Anil Kumble. The bat captures some key data elements of the batsman’s shots viz. speed on impact, twist on impact and quality of the shot — percentage proximity of the ball’s contact to the sweet spot of the willow etc. This data can be used by the player to improve their specific areas.
For snooker, there are a host of existing programs which analyse each shot of a player using on-screen technology which tracks the position of the balls on the table. Every shot is judged by the computer according to factors including power applied to the cue ball, the final resting position of the balls and pot success rate. For my purpose, I used a simple app which I downloaded and it gave me practice routines to track my areas of improvement and then suggested a practice program. I used this for 2 months and finally beat (narrowly) my arch nemesis on the snooker table.
As an afternote – The win might have been also since he was overconfident and had a couple of beers before the game!!
As I basked in my victory, the final thought that came to my mind was technology can only take you so far on the sports field. It can point you in a certain direction, but it is you, or let us say the player who must walk the path yourself through your sweat and perseverance. There is no machine or app that can do that for you yet!