The MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference is going on in Boston today and tomorrow, and if you’ve never attended — or if you have, but couldn’t make it this year — you should start planning for next spring. This is the fifth annual, and they just keep getting better.
There are 1,500 on hand this year, along with an impressive array of panelists and speakers from all major sports. The can’t-miss Baseball Analytics panel is tomorrow — expect plenty on that in the coming days — but today hasn’t lacked for highlights. One was the Performance and Injury Analytics panel, which included Mark Verstegen, the founder and chairman of Athlete’s Performance [AP]. Afterwards, Verstegen sat down to address three performance-related topics:
On EQ: “In the world as a whole, we’ve always looked at intelligence quotient [IQ], physical quotient [PQ] and emotional quotient [EQ]. In sports, for some reason, we’ve always discounted EQ, and until not too long ago it was only PQ, which are physical characteristics that you could call prerequisites. To play sports at an elite level, there are physical prerequisites and thresholds that you need in order to have success.
“Especially in team sports, EQ is important. When you start to do some of the behavioral tests, looking at accuracy, speed, and then ultimately the emotional component — and the speed at which you reach a conclusion on that emotional component — there are some strong correlations. In team sports, you’re interacting with others and your ability to pick up on some of those cues, both negative and positive, are important to performance.”
On if it can help a player to be dumb: “I think that what [a big-league manager] was trying to say was that sometimes people make the game really complicated. He was saying, ‘Hey, if you have someone who keeps things really simple and does the simple things savagely well, there is a significant amount of merit to it.’ I don’t want to throw a Forrest Gump thing in here, but you can have really great success by doing simple things really well and not overcomplicating them. Sometimes, and not just in analytics, you can get paralysis through analysis. That can come from thinking too much, or even being coached too much.”
On learning smart: “When you start to give someone the right developmental tools, it happens more naturally and all of a sudden there is less to coach. I think that sometimes coaches don’t have the right background and don’t know just what they’re looking for. When you really break down the sciences behind what you want, and can systematically take people there, it becomes mastery and you shouldn’t have to re-coach it.
“Good coaching is important early, so that you don’t have to unlearn bad habits and learn good ones. I’d much rather start with a clean hard drive, or a clean canvas, and work from there. That’s easier than taking a canvas with a whole bunch of elements that you have to try to erase and make pretty again. That’s really the nature sports. It happens both at a cognitive level — cognitively, programming wise — and physically.”