In the past, I have written about how Big Data was changing professional sports. It is being used extensively in Hockey to allow coaches to better understand how players move around the ice, how well they are positioned and to show how valuable a player is in ways other than their actual game statistics. It is being used in a similar way in Basketball, as video images are taken many times per second to evaluate the effectiveness of particular offensive or defensive schemes. And, in Baseball, it is taken to a whole new level. The reason is that unlike the first two sports, all plays start from a similar position, so is it easier to get comparison statistics from every play.
Now, Big Data takes on the Gridiron....and, it could not come at a better time. With players getting bigger and faster, it is not only becoming harder for coaches to view each player's positioning during each play, it is becoming tougher to keep them safe.
Injuries at the College and Professional levels are becoming more prevalent and severe. This is especially true when it comes to brain trauma, such as the link between head injuries to CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). While the NFL has only recently begun to acknowledge the link between playing the sport and long-term brain trauma (perhaps the fact that "Concussion", a movie starring Will Smith about NFL brain injuries, has drawn attention to it), IoT solution providers have been working on solutions for a while.
Sensors are being placed under the shoulder pads of each NFL player this season, up from about half of the players last year. Using these sensors, data is able to be gathered on each play. The data ranges from the amount of running that a player does to what kind of impact they may have taken to their exact positioning on the field.
Traditional statistics work well for many positions in the NFL. There is no shortage of great statistics for most offensive skill players. However, it can be difficult to analytically determine the value of an offensive lineman, as an example. Sure, they can keep track of how many times a defender gets by them and tries to drive the quarterback through the ground, but it may not always be apparent how effective they were against different types of defenses, different size defenders or after they are tired.....this is where Big Data can help.
Some players may have energy to burn on the field, so they never really get tired. Others are not so lucky and can get quite tired on the field. Most times when a player is fatigued, in addition to their performance going down, their likelihood of injury tends to go up. Coaches will now be better equipped to look for signs of fatigue to allow them to more effectively replace players to improve performance and safety. This should help to reduce serious injuries including head injuries that have been well covered in the media as of late.
One of the aspects of football that I love is both the amount of preparation that is done by the coaching staff before the game and what is done during the game. Before, overhead shots from the top of the stadium were used to see how effective certain plays were and adjustments were made based on the results. However, they were mostly just a string of still shots, so it didn't always give a great understanding. By having real time data that can be analyzed in seconds, coaches will get much better information about what has happened early in the game. This will allow for better in-game decisions.
As well, forward thinking coaches will be able to better focus their limited planning time using better information than ever before.....this should make the great coaches even better!
Considering how much money is involved (from both a revenue standpoint as well as a gambling one) with each NFL game, it only makes sense that they would use better tools to gain an advantage over their opponents. Big Data allows you to see more than ever before while making the game safer.
Let's face it, football is a violent game. Big men running into each other on every play is always going to have a high level of injuries. If fans of the game want to see this game played well into the future, we need to encourage that measures are taken to keep players healthy and not just because of Hollywood making a movie about it...