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How Can Movement Analytics Influence In-Game Tactics?

Coaches and managers are busy. They design game plans, adjust schemes, offer input on personnel decisions, manage player personalities – and that’s all before game day. When the action begins, a sports organization’s on-field leader then faces another thousand tiny decisions, including sometimes choosing to do nothing. It’s an exhausting job, and there are numerous ways to get it wrong, and often things don’t go well even when a coach or manager does everything in their power to get it right.

So why wouldn’t they want to gather all the information they can in advance?

Player movement analytics are the sort of valuable data that can help coaches make some of these decisions – even those in the moment. Here are just a few of the ways:

In-Game Fatigue

Even most casual sports fans have become familiar with the concept of load management, which generally refers to the handling of an athlete’s playing time and rest over the course of a season, with the aim of yielding optimal day-to-day performance (or a specifically targeted peak, such as the postseason). The term has been most closely associated with the NBA, but coaches, trainers and performance evaluators across a variety of sports have been paying attention to the long-term athletic ramifications of physical stress for some time. In fact, load-management tracking is one of Sportlight’s most valuable uses.

Yet why not adjust the focus and tighten the lens to a small section of a season, or even a single game? Coaches have been “eyeballing” in-game player fatigue and making judgment calls based on arbitrary minutes-played observations, but those are qualitative evaluations – and among the many responsibilities of a coach during a game. Player tracking can help create baselines from which to draw certain conclusions about if, when and how much an athlete should be participating at any given moment.

Example: NBA Player X is a productive 34-minutes-per-game player, but the movement-tracking data shows a statistically significant dip in his lateral quickness or vertical leap for any game in which he plays a continuous stretch of eight minutes or longer. It isn’t the total number of minutes that seems to be a drag on Player X’s performance, but a long, unbroken stretch that he struggles to recover from. After identifying the trend, a coach can easily make the adjustment to his rotation to theoretically optimize the player’s performance.


Consider another scenario: A Premier League manager whose club is facing relegation is under pressure to at least salvage a draw from a match tied in the late minutes. The manager has already lost one player to a red card and substituted for another, and his offensively gifted but aging forward is slowing considerably – not only in recent weeks, according to the organization’s player-movement-tracking data, but over the course of the match.

Given the circumstances – and the quantitative analysis derived from the club’s real-time player-tracking data – the manager makes the call to risk another substitution, swapping out his veteran for a fresh-legged, defensive-minded forward. It works: the defense holds and the club hangs on for the draw. Will the same decision always pay off? No, this is sports! But the manager, faced with a choice, was given more information in the moment to help support his decision making. That’s all a club’s leader, or the organization itself, could hope for.


Back to basketball, in which the small movements of a single player performed over and over accumulate to create outcomes that consistently win or lose games. An NBA rookie still learning the nuances of defense in the pro game, on a court featuring NBA dimensions, against world-class competition, may be struggling to hold his own as a weak-side defender. But he’s a difference-making offensive player, or he’s the future of a franchise in a going-nowhere season, in which case he might as well take his lumps and learn on the job.

Maybe our rookie is having trouble anticipating or reacting to certain actions on the ball side. Maybe he’s guarding an excellent shooter and doesn’t want to stray too far from his man. Maybe he’s fatigued – or simply a half-step slow. Player-movement-tracking technology won’t necessarily provide the answer why – but in this case, it doesn’t have to. For now, a coach just needs to know that it’s happening.

Rather than trying to turn a weak link into a plus defender overnight, a coach is more likely to strategize a workaround – send more aggressive help from elsewhere, tweak defensive rotations, etc. A temporary patch job is better than no solution at all. But it starts with the knowledge that there’s a problem. The movement analytics tracked by a system such as Sportlight provide an organization’s leadership with the information it needs to react – over the long haul and in real time.

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