Automated Data from the Practice Field: Very cool, but what is the impact?

This pitch map looks like the kind of data viz a Football wonk might crunch out after a televised NFL game. But this detailed breakdown of a QB’s passes comes from an everyday practice at a division 1 level and was delivered to the QB coach immediately after the session finished.

So, what can coaches and players get from this data? And why should they care?

Here are three examples of using this novel data to create impact, based upon our early engagement with College teams on the QB data. The same principles cut across to the automated data we have for special teams, kickers, and offensive players too.

1. This is a direct measure of QB throws per practice. A true count of throwing load is recorded and can then linked to the teams AMS or load reports. Teams can move on from inferring load from IMU algorithms or having a member of staff do diligent in-practice manual counting.

2.This is objective data to create individual player profiles. Capture data from enough drills and game-scenarios and sport science departments can build a data picture of each QBs performance capability, at a granular level.

For example, the simple analysis of over 700 passes made in practice shows a clear difference between two QBs on the same College roster. QB1 can throw with greater spiral efficiency, across the entire range of pass distances, and particularly in the 10 to 30 yard zone, compared to QB2. This quantifies what the coaches will already know that there are differences in how clean their QBs throw. But this objective profiling can drive technical development goals for individual players, inform scouting and recruitment camps, and provide crucial benchmark data to guide return to play protocols (RTPs).

This is one example of the journey Sportable is embarking on in 2024, to deliver impact to high performance teams. Our unobtrusive LPS capture system combined with our team issue smart balls can now be used in the practice environment. The big idea is that coaches and players do their usual thing, but all the skills, actions and movements are captured, seamlessly and automatically whilst they practice. The result is that coaches and players gain real-time skill and tactical metrics from practice, which is typically only available from stadium, televised matches. The aim is delivering performance information to support coaching.

Briefly, this is a non-trivial applied engineering and data science problem. To walk off the practice field with this visual map of QB passes requires continual and rapid integration of player and ball position, combined with algorithms which accurately detect the incidence of ball flight and quantify the ball’s behaviour.

3. The pass profiling example above hints at how the data is there for coaches to evaluate performance. What pass distances are the most important to throw clean for a specific player and play book? What routes and WR combinations maximise play success? What hang time and release speeds do individual QBs need to improve pass completion? This is skill data coaches really care about, if presented to them in the right way, as it links directly to what matters most. Winning.

Before getting ahead of ourselves, it is important to state we understand sports science teams will have a process to work through, from first receiving smart ball metrics to delivering coaches value. Typically, this requires gathering enough data over a period and building a norm data set, and we are geared up to support this. This collation process creates the benchmarks to understand what the metrics mean in practice and sets teams up to answer the question players and coaches will always ask, which is ’how good are my numbers?’    

In time, Sportable is looking to build more automated metrics that are meaningful for performance and load management. Early ideas include, QB throwing intensity, to colour the basic ‘count’ metric, and play success probability or expected catch (xC). Again, the aim is to deliver value to coaches, and link to performance.

If you are a coach, analyst or sports scientist working in Football and are as excited by the potential impact of this data as we are, please get in touch. We would love for you to join us on our performance journey.