The first instance of using data analytics in soccer dates back to the 1950s, when soccer analytics pioneer Charles Reep became frustrated by the game’s slow pace. In his pursuit of scoring more, he started recording data on paper and eventually concluded, “The key to scoring goals and winning games [is] to transfer the ball as quickly as possible from back to front.”
This idea challenged the status quo because it emphasized kicking the ball downfield over maintaining possession. While his findings weren’t exactly right and garnered much criticism, he forever changed soccer with his focus on data and performance analysis.
Fast forward 70 years, and soccer is a different game. With heat map tracking, GPS, perpetual video analytics, and much more, professional soccer players have never had access to so much data and analytics.
But how has all this data affected players’ abilities on the pitch, and on the flip side, how can businesses apply similar practices to improve their performance?
I recently had the chance to interview two-time World Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist Megan Rapinoe. A fan favorite and one of the U.S. team’s most technical and craftiest players, Megan is both a world-class player and an advocate for equality for all. In a recent webinar, she shared insights on how she and her team use data analytics to level up their game.
Unleashing the Power of Soccer Data Analytics
“Because I’ve been playing so long, we didn’t have analytics or any kind of data before,” Megan explained. But as the use of data analytics in sports has evolved, Megan said she’s “really enjoyed the insertion of technology and analytics.” One of her first experiences with data was its ability to validate her play style.
“When I was younger, it was sort of this eye test of, well, it doesn’t look like you’re running as much as everybody else. And I’m like, yeah, but I’m more effective. [Today], I’m running less, and the data can prove that. But [it can also prove] I’m in more dangerous positions more often.”
She explained how data had a cumulative effect on her game, helping her maximize every inch of her performance. “It’s just these little, little things. [It’s] pulling in millions of minutes of footage from all over the place, or 1000s of data points, to try to make your game better. So from like a tactical perspective and a physical perspective, especially getting older, [I want to know] how can you maximize everything? Whether it’s GPS or heart-rate tracking, we’re integrating all of that into our physical program.
“To take [those insights] out onto the pitch has been a total game changer. It’s pretty amazing what the human body can do. And the data and technology are constantly pushing our bounds and taking us to places we didn’t know we could go.”
Lessons for Business: Connecting Soccer Innovations to Growth
Data analytics reshaped how Megan and her team both train and play. “We’re understanding that the game is really sort of the pinnacle. So if you think of your week flow, you want things to go up and down. [But] the weekend game is the point. So what are we doing all week to get to that point? How much do you need to recover? How old is that player? Does that player have a history of muscle injury? For me, especially as I’ve gotten older, it’s gonna take me longer to recover, but I’m gonna still be able to get the output that I need in the game, but I might need an extra day on the front end to be able to do that.” Just like in soccer, organizations can work backward from their goals and use data to optimize for revenue, performance, growth, or any other objective.
Reducing risk and making data-driven decisions
Data’s objectivity has also changed how Megan’s coaches, or leaders, make decisions. “Sometimes coaches feel a little bit at odds with the data because they’re like, ‘I want to do this in training,’ and the sports science people are like, ‘Sure, you can, but you’re putting your players at risk for injury, and also, you’re not going to get the output you want on the weekend. So do whatever you want to do on a Wednesday, but they’re not going to give you what you want on Saturday or Sunday.’ Similarly, businesses can fight against gut-level reactions by making data-driven decisions that help reduce risk and increase performance.
Delivering a better product
While soccer is a passion and career for many athletes like Megan, it’s an exploding fandom for millions worldwide. Megan believes that the use of data analytics has led to a “much better product on the field. It’s kept athletes healthier, safer, and fitter and able to play more, which, ultimately, we always want to play as many games as possible.
“And I think it’s given us the ability to play a much more exciting, entertaining, attacking style of football, which most people are doing these days.” In the same way, organizations can use data analytics for everything from product development to customer analytics to deliver a better end product.
The Evolution of Data in Business
Like in soccer, data analytics has completely transformed how businesses operate. IDC estimates that the global datasphere (the amount of data created, captured, and replicated in any given year across the world) will grow to 175 ZB in 2025. For context, one zettabyte is equivalent to a trillion gigabytes! IDC puts 175 ZB into perspective with this analogy: “If you were able to store the entire Global Datasphere on DVDs, then you would have a stack of DVDs that could get you to the moon 23 times or circle Earth 222 times.” To take advantage of this data, organizations have changed everything from their structure to their strategy.
For example, organizations now have chief data officers to oversee data strategy, and they have entire analytics teams dedicated to data-driven decision-making.
And the results have been worth it.
Third-party research indicates that analytically mature organizations outperform others in their industry across nearly every metric, including three-year revenue and five-year operating income. As economic turmoil and uncertainty continue to strain the economy, the ability to make quick pivots and data-driven decisions is critical, whether it’s for reducing risk, creating better products, optimizing day-to-day operations, or making better decisions.
How to Start Improving Performance With Data
One of the best ways to ensure you’re using data to improve your performance and remain agile is to become more analytically mature. Improving your maturity starts with understanding where your organization is at today and then creating a strategic and tactical plan to improve.
Our fifteen-minute analytics maturity assessment — developed with the International Institute for Analytics (IIA) — will give you a comprehensive framework for assessing your current analytics maturity, reveal how you compare to peers, and give you actionable steps to reach the next level. These steps include improving your data’s quality, improving organizational and team dynamics, and democratizing access to data. Follow this link to assess your analytics maturity today.
Kick Your Business Goals
Data helps Megan and her team practice, recover, and score. And it’s helping businesses improve their performance when it matters most. As the use of AI and data and analytics continues to evolve, organizations must continue to evolve with them. The easiest way to do this is with analytics technology that enables organizations to use all their data (whether on-premises or in the cloud) and empower everyone to find insights regardless of their skill level. Learn more about the Alteryx Analytics Cloud Platform.