How Technology is Changing the Way the Game is Coached

6 Mar

Tarek Kamil predicts that technologists will one day be just as important to a basketball team’s on-court success as coaches are. Not only that, he says, they’ll actually be determining in-game strategy and making sideline calls themselves.

And as he sees it, that day’s coming sooner than you think. During a presentation on the second day of the 2011 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Kamil said he figures it’ll arrive within the next 20 years.

Analysts will pore over mountains of data mined from an array of individual player snapshots and game situations to arrive at evidence-based conclusions, according to Kamil, executive director of online strategies for InfoMotion Sports and founder of the popular online sports simulation site WhatIfSports.com. Those conclusions will form the basis for the kind of critical decisions that frequently mean the difference between winning and losing.

Kamil forwarded this idea during a presentation promoting InfoMotion’s 94Fifty technology, which is built on a pretty basic premise — if you measure the motion of the basketball as a player handles it, you can get a lot of information about the player doing the handling. The system uses sensor arrays embedded into basketballs to collect a variety of data about how the ball moves when it’s dribbled, shot or passed. From there, the system employs advanced algorithms to turn the information into a highly detailed player assessment.

Using the 94Fifty technology, Kamil said, you can learn how much control a player has over the ball — not only the speed of his dribble or the steadiness of his handle, but also what kind of spin he puts on the ball when he shoots it, how long it takes him to get different types of shots off in different situations, the angle and arc with which he shoots it, and more.

“A coach can tell me that [a player] needs to work on his left hand,” Kamil said. “[But] we can tell you that his right hand is 14 percent more dominant than his left.”

That degree of granularity is more than just interesting, according to Kamil — it’s necessary.

“How do you get better if you don’t know where you are today?” he asked.

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