The speed, velocity, and contact point of someone serving a tennis ball

(Image courtesy of The Atlantic)

In any domain, a strategic advantage is a prized asset. On fields of sport, especially at the professional level, where strength and skill are often equally matched, a strategic advantage can mean the difference between a winning record and a losing one.

Athletes, coaches, and team owners are finding ways to empower their missions with geospatial data. Some of their uses are to be expected, like tracking distances and speeds of runners or dogsled racers. Others are used to uncover hidden advantages.

One of the best examples of this is travel planning for teams. In general, the more a team travels, the more prone to injury their players are. In the 2015-2016 NBA season, for example, the most travelled team, the Golden State Warriors, reported more injuries than the least-travelled team that year, the Cleveland Cavaliers. With geospatial information aiding decision-making by league executives, this is the kind of problem that can be smoothed out league-wide, evening the competitive field.

Speaking of fields, a player’s activity on them during a given game or match can reveal much about their strengths. Detailed break-downs of an athlete’s habits and successes, like this one conducted by Esri for a match between Roger Federer and Andy Murray, can help hone specific skills. The data linked above, for example, combines court position, ball bounce, point outcome, and opponent responses to give an incredibly detailed analysis of what occurred.

In team sports, like soccer, that kind of information can be used to predict how opponents will react to a player in each in-game scenario. Coaches can use this information to add an element of psychological advantage to their strategies, by deploying players at advantageous moments. They can also use this to gain an accurate statistical picture of who the most valuable players are. These kinds of micro-data points lead to far more understanding of a good performance than mere point totals.

Of course, GIS data can be used to examine far more than a few individuals on a sports field. Team and league owners are using cross-referenced geospatial and population data to determine where to build stadiums, which stations to air games on, and even which cities to move teams to.

Finally, sports use the kinds of applications more traditionally associated with GIS in distance-based events, like the Tour De France and Iditarod, to track and map participants. This allows viewers worldwide to track their favorite participants in real-time. The more accurate the data, the more nuanced a picture of their performance we can see.

Key Takeaways:

  • GIS data can help athletes and coaches with small-scale strategy and predictive models for opponent behavior, as well as their own.
  • Leagues and owners use the information to ensure their teams play to the biggest and most enthusiastic markets.
  • Non-athletic advantages, like a more moderate travel schedule, can be identified and mitigated, ensuring as fair a competition as possible.