Sports and Health

Data Analytics in Sports

Using math to win the game

Soccer Player


  • Almost all professional sports teams are using data science and analytics to try to win more games. [Merrimack College]

  • Data analytics provides the ability to measure and utilize patterns found in data research to inform the development of on-field strategies. [Tech Review]

  • The use of data analytics across all areas of a professional team seems to be the norm. [Harvard Business Review]

For the Pros...

  • Data analytics is mainly used in professional sports to determine the value of a player and to facilitate better on-field decisions. [Merrimack College]
  • For example, the NFL uses tracking chips in shoulder pads to calculate the movement path and speed of each player. [The Boston Globe]

... and for College

  • Collegiate basketball, football, and hockey tournament selection are based on a Rating Percentage Index (RPI). 
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Use of data analytics is changing the way teams are organized and managed, and maybe changing sports as we know it. [Public Radio International] This quantitative approach to player "grading" is challenging the old-school qualitative method that relies on intuition and observation. 


For example, saying a player can run "very fast" is qualitative while knowing the exact rate at which a player is running is quantitative. 



Highly successful teams, like the New England Patriots, credit some of their success to data analysis. [The Boston Globe]


Owner Robert Kraft is a major supporter of its use and has even started a separate company, KAGR, that utilizes the business intelligence technology formed for the Patriots.  [The Beat]



Tailor your skill

Players are using data analytics to fine-tune their skills, both on and off the field.


Coaches are able to track player performance during games and gym sessions. They can tailor both training and tactics to individual players, including work out regimes and nutritional plans. Come game day, coaches can then match "team tactics" to the opposing team. [The Guardian]



Player stats

Player statistics (stats) are used to rank players or teams based on certain skills. For example, the NFL recently published "NextGen Stats," a website that ranks teams based on certain statistics. 


Stats are also used to help generate public recognition and create optimal fantasy teams. [ESPN]


Human skill

All sports require a level of physical and mental skill that numbers cannot create.


There is also the potential for "human error", or "choking" in any situation, which cannot be quantified or controlled by an algorithm. 



Stats can lie

Some believe that stats reported on players do not always account for actual talent or represent the right facts. For example: [Forbes]

  • RBIs (Runs Batted In) is luck more than anything else.

  • OBP (On-Base Percentage) is far more important than AVG (batting average), which is weighted heavily in baseball player stats.

Some believe you can "bend" percentages to support one side or the other. Learn more in the video below.


Key Vocabulary