NOT Falling Prey to The Data

Mark Upton
Feb 23, 2016

I really think coaches need a little bit of theoretical guidance

I’ve had the good fortune of Professor Duarte Araújo’s company on a couple of occasions in the last 6 months. He is a passionate, intelligent and genuinely nice guy. His academic work has stretched and challenged my thinking over the last few years. Given my recent post concerning the importance of a theoretical model of learning to “protect” against the misuse of data and technology, Duarte’s recent insights on this theme are worth sharing…

(this passage is from the Perception & Action Podcast featuring Duarte speaking with Rob Gray)

“nowadays with all the advances in technology, we tend to be driven by data – not by ideas, not by questions – but just because you can measure, you can have numbers about something. But I think this can create more anxieties than solutions because you have huge amounts of data but no clue with what you can do with it. I prefer to be more information-driven than data-driven in the sense of just measuring things and putting sensors everywhere.”

“So I really think coaches need a little bit of theoretical guidance. Sport Science can do more than just provide new technologies, we can be more useful if we can guide a bit how coaches look at performance. I think high-level coaches will not benefit too much from this, because intuitively they are already attuned to the relevant performance variables. But for the majority of those that are not high-level coaches, I think theoretical guidance can help them about what direction they should take in training, how to analyse competition, how to prepare for the next match, not simply by having numbers or repeating what other coaches do. Their ideas about the game can be guided by what we know about individual and team behaviour.”


– Duarte Araújo, Associate Professor, University of Lisbon (find out more about Duarte and his work at the Sport Expertise Lab)

Whilst coaches are clearly identified in the above, I have also been musing over the implications for Performance Analysis roles. If this field is going to differentiate itself from generic data and analytics experts it really needs to justify the term “Performance” being in the title – in Duarte’s words, this means being “guided by what we know about individual and team behaviour” (and I would add – how players learn these behaviours). I feel there is much progress to be made here…