The Great Wave of Analytics – What is the crest?

I’ve read two books recently (“The Rise of Superman” and “Smart Cuts”), that talked about surfing. So that’s probably what has me using a wave metaphor to discuss the what is happening right now in hockey, in relation to analytics.

Not long ago, analytics were once the crest of the wave. Just last year, analytics were discussed on TSN, CBC, and Sportsnet in a flippant fashion. In the first few NHL talk shows that I’ve watched, I’ve already heard discussion of analytics in a more detailed and critical manner.

Remember that analytics were designed in baseball, and now in hockey, to take advantage of market inefficiencies. This means that they were designed to look at players statistically to see who made contributions to their team’s success in a way that is undervalued by team managers. If someone uses analytics to find these market inefficiencies, and the market inefficiencies exist, then a manager get away getting more value out of a player than they are putting in. The caveat, here, is if the market inefficiency exists.

If everyone is talking about analytics, and everyone is using them, then the market becomes efficient again…there is no sources of untapped value for a manager to tap.

So then, as this wave gathers energy, if using analytics becomes just another manner to keep up, what is a manager supposed to do to get ahead?

Here are two areas to look:

  • Evaluative metrics that inform a development coach how to best improve a player. If a coach can use advanced stats/evaluative metrics/analytics to design a program for their improvement, the coach can identify areas of weakness. We assume that by identifying and working on areas of weakness, we can increase the rate of a player’s improvement. This is like what Darryl Belfry is doing with his players.
  • Physiological measurements. I am making the hypothesis, that there are physiological markers that can predict a player’s performance. Back in the Vancouver Canucks’ Stanley Cup Playoff Run, I had the opportunity to hear from and talk to Dr. Len Zaichowsky. He was their director of sports science. He had the team tracking many physiological values: heart rate variability, sleep quality and quantity, multi-object tracking, T-wave (I’m not sure what that was). I think that they were tracking these values and using them to inform how the players practiced and played. They also had their most successful season as a team…ever. The next year, Dr. Zaichowsky was let go, and they lost in the first round of playoffs. They haven’t made it that far into the post seasons since…
    • What values could you look at and why?
      • In-game heart rate and heart-rate variability. It might be possible to determine what heart rate and heart-rate variability values a player demonstrates when they play at their best. It therefore might be possible to design interventions to more consistently get a player to obtain these values in-game, thereby improving their performance
      • Resting heart rate variability and adrenal stress. Players can sometimes play well when stressed for 1 or 2 games, but their performance may drop off if they remain stressed for games 3 and 4. Perhaps it’s possible to put find and put players in a sweet-spot where their stress levels are in balance to provide optimal performance.
      • Brainwaves and transient hypofrontality. As you know from my previous article on finding flow, turning certain brain structures off is important for getting players into flow. A player who is predisposed to being in flow with a certain neurological state, more often, will be a more effective player. Perhaps by monitoring and informing an athlete, coaches and managers can design processes to more consistently get their players into flow.

I’m suggesting that crest of the wave is a place where there are market inefficiencies. The market is becoming efficient in the sphere of analytics, but might still be inefficient when it comes to measuring physiological values and evaluative metrics that can be used to design a development program.

What do you think? Are there other areas where there might be market inefficiencies in the game of hockey?

-Jason

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