Rugby Australia taps big data to improve player performance

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Rugby Australia taps big data to improve player performance

All available from a smartphone.

Professional sports teams have invested heavily in big data platforms to boost their monitoring of player performance, to highlight areas for training and skills development, and plan strategies for matches and entire seasons.

For Rugby Australia, a bespoke big data analytics platform has proven transformative by providing previously unattainable insights through a single interface that is available both on the field and off.

The concept for the platform emerged during discussions about the best way for coaches, trainers, athletes and other stakeholders to improve their use of data about players’ sleep, wellness, match performance, and GPS tracking.

This data was already being collected, but was previously stored in a range of siloed systems that prevented it from being consolidated or published in a broader context.

It also meant two full-time staff regularly spent one to two hours combing through the data to develop standard reports every training day, and three to four hours on a game day.

Working with partner Accenture, team management were able to specify and plan a cloud-based analytics platform that would eliminate this manual effort while helping put sports data at the core of the team’s management processes.

Over the course of a six-month development cycle, a team combining technical and subject matter experts worked with staff, Wallabies players and head coach Michael Cheika to set user requirements and shape final deliverables.

The resulting high-performance unit (HPU) analytics platform is built Accenture's Insights Platform (AIP), which consolidated the previously disparate data silos into a holistic platform that could correlate and visualise all manner of data.

The platform leveraged a range of tools including Amazon Web Services cloud, storage and big data services; D3.js; the Tableau visualisation engine; GPSports sensors and data; Alteryx and Mulesoft data discovery and supply chain tools; Fusion Sport athlete management and operations; and Perform Group match and game data.

Adoption of agile methodologies helped propel development in sync with end user requirements and feedback. A co-design approach, run with a group of super users, ensured the platform addressed identified pain points and responded to feedback on potential functionality.

“Integrating data, delivering insights and enabling users in a single platform represents a smarter and more automated approach for Rugby Australia, and has ultimately led to a more effective way to manage our data assets,” Kevin Stafford, head of technology with Rugby Australia, said.

“Over 200 person hours in manual report development per year has now been eliminated for the Wallabies, allowing sports analysts to focus on ad-hoc analysis and the generation of specialised content and insights.”

For the first time, those insights are available to players and staff via their mobile device and a specially developed HPU app.

The app not only provides clear visibility of a particular player’s performance and health, but allows for deep-dive exploration into highly detailed statistics about daily performance.

This improves the availability of timely, actionable insight, while the formation of an analytics command centre delivered a centre of excellence through which Rugby Australia can develop and track its long-term vision around the use of player analytics.

“The platform opens up a world of other data sources that can be ingested and used in our analysis,” Stafford said.

“This is the first step in a bigger vision where we want to take data from far and wide throughout Australian rugby at all levels, to be able to gain visibility and build talent identification programs from early on in a player’s journey.”

This project has been named a finalist in the consumer category of the iTnews Benchmark Awards 2017/18. The full list of finalists can be found here.

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