Measure what matters!

    What kind of data do we need to develop sports?

    Almost all decisions made by governments, businesses, and individuals nowadays are informed by varying amounts of information. Sometimes the amount of information is overwhelming, other times it may be hard to find but there's no doubt that information and its underlying data (the facts) are key to modern life.

    Almost everything we do generates some kind of data. How many times an online ad is clicked, the most popular color for luxury cars, what medicines clinics usually prescribe for flu. All of this is data. Analyze it and it becomes information. Imagine modern companies or governments trying to make good decisions without collecting this data or analyzing its information.

    So it makes sense that large social projects begin with enough information to make sensible, informed decisions, which brings us to my favorite topic -- sport development.

    Sport development can be supercharged if we have the right kind of data. But without data the decisions made by coaches, sport associations, and government bodies are, most of the time, based on what someone thinks is right. Like a pilot flying without instruments, decisions made this way are little more than guesses.

    The most important aspect of sport development is the nature of the data that is needed. Too often when we talk about sport we're focused on the technical aspects, the coaching, and rankings. In other words we're focused on the actual sport science of the activity involved. But this isn't the kind of information we need. Sport development needs a social engineering approach and the data that provides this information is fundamentally different from that used in sport science. It's much more basic but no less important.

    What kind of data?

    Let's start with the simple stuff such as, Who are the athletes that are involved in sport? Where are they? We need to know who our athletes are, where they are, how old they are, where they're training etc. Without this knowledge we have no real idea of the size of the pool of athletes under training and are unable to track progress.

    This means that athletes have to be registered with the association in order to participate in local competitions. So we need a data system to track this.

    Can we track progress?

    For sports measured in distance, weight, or time (commonly called cgs sports for centimeters, grams, and seconds) progress can be tracked with simple statistics like the results of competitions. Anyone should be able to go online and look up the results from various contests. Coaches would be able to use this information to inform their planning. Athletes would be able to use this for motivational purposes. For example, if their goal was to be in the Top 5 100m runners for their age group by the end of the year the first thing they would have to know is what the current Top 5 times were and what time would be needed to break into that list. Currently this kind of information is not available.

    With proper tracking of athletes as they age, associations will have a clear idea of the number of athletes moving through the development system and the quality of performances.

    Who are the coaches?

    This same idea of tracking athletes can also apply to coaches. Who is coaching a particular sport in Malaysia? What kind of training courses have they attended? Are they associated with a club or are they only working with small groups of athletes on their own?

    With information like this associations can help improve coaching around the country. Knowing who and where the coaches are will make delivering training easier and more effective.

    Where are the clubs?

    Associations should know what clubs are offering training in their sport. Who are the coaches they are employing? Can they host competitions in their area? Since the administration of clubs varies training on sport club administration could be offered. However you can't offer training if you don't know that a club exists in the first place. Naturally this information probably already exists in some form for reasons of governmental regulation but the point is that the associations should have this information available within their own records.

    How does one find this information?

    Right now finding this kind of information ranges from difficult to impossible depending on the sport. But this is exactly the kind of infrastructure management needed to kick start the development process.

    This information should be available online. If I move to a new area I should be able to go online and find a club offering sport training near my home. I should be able to find local coaches who may be interested in teaching private lessons. I should be able to see the results of all competitions in my chosen sport. A data infrastructure will put sport development in Malaysia on the fast track.


    Bill Price (price@sportkid.asia) is the owner and Chief Data Scientist at Sportkid Metrics.

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