Major League Soccer Club leverages data to analyze players’ fitness and readiness and maintain health throughout the season
Seattle Sounders FC, the Major League Soccer club based in Seattle, Wash., has found an innovative edge over the competition: data. The Sounders use Tableau to visualize massive amounts of data generated from wearable technology on its players and systems designed to track their movements and health.
To measure players’ performance and effectiveness, the team collects data on its players sleep patterns, GPS positioning on the field, the speed and distance they run in practice and in games and more. A team of four, led by performance manager David Tenney, analyzes this data and creates visual reports using Tableau. The Sounders’ coaches use these reports to make data-driven decisions about training schedules and regimens, all with the goal of keeping players healthy and at peak performance.
“In the last five years, the power of technology in sports, and wearables in particular, has caught hold,” said David Tenney, the Sounders’ Sports Science and Performance Manager. “This technology generates a wealth of data on our players, from our preseason practices all the way through our regular season. Our coaches aren’t data scientists—but Tableau lets us give them visually clear reports to see how players are performing and make informed decisions about the team.”
Sounders players are equipped with multiple data-gathering devices that help Tenney’s team track their movements, vital signs, and health. For instance, players wear a harness to track their forward, backward, and sideways motions, while a series of cameras placed around the field track players’ positions and automatically generate coordinates on X and Y axes based upon their movements. Tenney’s team even tracks players’ sleep habits through wristband monitors and run this data through an algorithm that can predict a player’s reaction time.
While there are many tools available to gather and monitor the huge amounts of data these systems output, the Sounders needed a solution that would let them visualize data from multiple sources in one place and create reports that time-strapped coaches can easily see and understand.
In early 2013, Tenney’s team began using Tableau to generate visual reports and connect the dots within this data. Coaches use these reports to conduct post-training and post-game assessments, create rankings of players, and ultimately to inform strategies to keep players healthy and fresh for games.
“Because our coaches can understand this data visually, they’re able to gain insights not visible to the naked eye like data on a players speed, acceleration, and distance,” said Tenney. “The result is that we can structure our workouts and trainings to keep players healthier and fresher at the end of games. The impact is quantifiable—we’re scoring more than a third of our goals in the last 15 minutes of each game.”
With a long, 34-game season, keeping fresh legs under its players is a critical issue for the Sounders. The rigors of training, matches, traveling, community activities and more that come with being a Major League Soccer player can take their toll. By tracking and analyzing players’ data, the Sounders are able to stay ahead of the curve and even gain a leg up on the competition.
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