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What Can Measuring and Monitoring Change of Direction Tell Us About Performance?

Change of direction is a somewhat nebulous but almost universally valuable athletic concept that can be roughly applied across sports. In football, it may refer to how quickly a player in transition can decelerate from top speed, turn and accelerate back up to top speed. In basketball, it may be thought of as quickness between two points in a defensive slide. In American football, it could apply to a receiver’s burst out of his break or a linebacker’s ability to almost instantly shift his momentum and make the tackle on a ball carrier making a cutback run.

Yet each of these has slightly different meaning, and each requires important game and positional context. That’s why simply measuring or monitoring change of direction, alone or together, isn’t enough. Performance evaluators are still needed to analyze and contextualize this data – which isn’t meant to make decisions for them but to support them in calling the shots. That said, there’s plenty of value to be learned from both measuring and monitoring change of direction.

Measuring Change of Direction

If change of direction were limited to a single plane of movement, it would be a far easier skill to define and measure – and most sports would lose a great deal of their appeal. Dynamic and compound movements are what bring difficulty and grace to our games, and they tend to separate the truly transcendent athletes from sports’ mere mortals.

But they are also exceedingly difficult to quantify, in part because non-kinetic skills such as vision and anticipation can also affect an athlete’s “quickness” within the context of a game, and in part because change-of-direction measurements of athletes at the top end of the spectrum look very similar to those of the second- and even third-tier athletes. Tiny fractions of seconds separate the measurements of elite performers’ compound movements through three dimensions, making measuring accuracy critical for comparison’s sake.

Determining these small differences can help performance evaluators categorize and appropriately evaluate talent, and increasingly advanced movement tracking systems such as Sportlight’s are gradually making it a reality. Let’s say, for instance, that a midfielder lacks impressive size, top-end speed and ball skills, but he always seems to make plays for his club. Rather than chalking that ability up to his “having a nose for the ball,” there is organizational value in verifying a repeatable, identifiable skill – such as the player’s excellent change-of-direction quickness in transition.

Recording athletes’ stop-start ability, burst out of angles, rounded-runs acceleration and lateral quickness can help clubs turn data into insights that paint a more meaningful picture of a player. And in the multibillion-dollar industry of sports, the clarity of those images is impossible to put a number on.

Monitoring Change of Direction

The value of measuring change-of-direction skills may seem inherently obvious to many, especially given the common examples that could be found in various sports evaluation settings over the years (example: the NFL Combine’s shuttle run). But it’s the continuous and comprehensive measuring of those movements that open a world of insights to performance evaluators.

Consider all the ways the routine measurement of an athlete’s change of direction, at every touchpoint, can benefit an organization:

  • A Premier League club that is able to monitor its junior players, in both matches and in training, can more reliably identify athletic progress – an increase in burst or cutting explosiveness – in individuals that may be considered for promotion.

  • An NBA team monitoring the change-of-direction analytics of its entire roster, from training camp through the preseason through the regular season and the playoffs, can spot drop-offs in performance – which may be a precursor to injury or simply indicate a player is in need of rest.

  • An NFL team that can track a slight but steady decline in its star receiver’s change-of-direction ability from his sixth season in the league through his eighth season can use those markers in a player’s career arc to support its roster-building efforts.

The main hurdle for organizations in these efforts has been the absence of an accurate flexible system – one that doesn’t involve prohibitive labor, complexity and expense to operate. Sportlight’s LiDAR-based system, with accuracy matching that of the industry’s gold standard and the adaptability to make it a scalable option for sports organizations, can be exactly that solution.

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