Athletes and coaches use technology more than ever before to improve performance and prevent injuries. Biometric devices lead the way in capturing valuable data about the athletes’ training and game-day performance.
But significant challenges accompany the increasing availability of such large data sets: Results-driven and in-depth analysis requires sophisticated technology for data analytics and special expertise in areas such as sports psychology, physiology and exercise science.
In this installment of the series, I had the pleasure of speaking with Daniel McCaffrey from SyncStrength, a platform that synchronizes physiological, performance and team dynamic data into health and performance insights for coaches, managers and teams. We initially met after his presentation “The Science of Team Chemistry: Measuring Team Chemistry from Human Biology in Basketball and Soccer” at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in 2013.
McCaffrey previously co-founded a company alongside former professional and collegiate athletes with the goal of helping individuals and teams improve the mental side of their performance. It focused on managing pregame stress, building team cohesion and more, but the company only had the athletes’ fleeting memories as a base for training sessions.
Kaan Turnali: Can you tell me a little about SyncStrength and how the idea was born?
Daniel McCaffrey: As a former collegiate soccer player myself, I remember feeling frustrated with the lack of available feedback systems for me to develop and progress. So in 2011 with the advent of wearable technology and sports analytics, Kevin Bickart and I co-founded SyncStrength. With this venture, I combine my knowledge of behavioral science, data science and human performance with my interest in athletic experience and the athletic mindset. I realized that the kind of work we envisioned was timely and possible because hardware companies were already developing and implementing wearable devices. We hoped that this technology combined with our expertise would ultimately provide the foundation for implementing sports science for improved health, wellness and performance alongside next level of self-awareness for athletes.
KT: How does SyncStrength leverage data and analytics to help coaches and athletes?
DM: We turn raw data from athlete tracking systems such as Catapult or Polar, which is often difficult for coaches and athletes to gain meaning and actionable insights that inform better decisions about health, performance, lineups and training. SyncStrength’s Web platform uses physiological data (heart rate), with performance data (game statistics) and social communication information (ranking system). Our expert analysis combines these different forms of data to provide the athletes a better understanding of their health and performance. In addition we advise and consult teams and organizations on data collection and analytics. There seems to be a major gap in the industry between sports science, data analytics and actionable information for coaches and athletes.
SyncStrength’s most innovative product is our deliverables around team chemistry. The next frontier of analytics is to quantify the social and psychological factors that impact performance. Teams are living breathing organisms made up of many different parts. Our analytics show and explain how these parts interact—and most importantly, their progress over time. Throughout sports, relationships between players are essential for success: quarterback and wide receiver, point guard and center, pitcher and catcher, Midfielder and Forward. Each pair must be on the same page when making split second decisions. SyncStrength’s analytics provide scientific basis for team chemistry. It is in this analysis that we can measurably show how it impacts player performance and is capable of improving over time.
KT: What are some of the projects that you are working on?
DM: SyncStrength is working side by side with an MLS team to better understand how our Web platform addresses areas like injury prevention and health management. We’re adapting and testing our algorithms to help coaches make better sense of when an athlete is over training and/or under training. Information like this gives athletes greater insight into their physical state and progress in returning to the game or training field. Currently many of these decisions are left up to guesswork. SyncStrength removes the unknown variables, providing more information to coaches and team doctors to make more informed decisions.
For our team chemistry analytics, we’re currently working with basketball teams to help coaches understand, through the data they are already collecting, which players perform best together to deliver wins. We objectively analyze player rotations, chemistry and performance. Ultimately, you can’t change what you don’t measure. Team chemistry analysis, based in real science, can separate winning teams from championship teams. It’s inevitable that every team will go through a crisis of chemistry at one point or another during the season due to injuries, roster changes or devastating loses. For example, one of our DI men’s basketball teams was concerned with how an All-American incoming freshmen point guard would gel with a veteran team. Coaches decided team chemistry was too important not to measure and focus on evolving from the beginning of preseason. SyncStrength helped them measure, monitor and determine which players had the best chemistry. We have empirical evidence that team chemistry exists and impacts player performance. We plan on publishing this research in a white paper and sharing it with potential clients very soon.
Stay tuned for the next installment of the Data Innovators in Sports and Entertainment series.
Data Innovators in Sports and Entertainment Series: