Stay sharp, stay in front
Extracted from The Wall Street Journal.
An evolved understanding of data analytics has made this discipline a new focus of sporting teams’ preparations. In the run-up to The 2016 Ryder Cup, the U.S. and Europe team captains will be drawing upon it, while business leaders reflect on the dramatic transformation it is bringing about in the commercial realm. As a powerful information source and decision-making tool, data analysis plays a crucial role in success.
When a U.S. baseball coach sensationally overturned conventional wisdom in 2002 by taking his little-fancied team to the U.S. national play-offs, beating far wealthier and more famous sides, sport changed forever.
Across the sporting spectrum, coaches, managers and players suddenly knew that they would have to think smarter to get ahead. Guesswork, basic statistics, emotional bias and subjective players’ reputations now counted for little. In their place came a finely calibrated understanding of data analysis, looking at the marginal gains that a team could achieve through player selection, tactical awareness, and harnessing the objective power of numbers.
In the business world, there has been a parallel explosion of data analytics informing commercial decisions, as Marco Comastri, EMEA president and general manager of software giant CA Technologies, confirms: “People are much more responsive to data today,” he says. “Young people even more so. It helps a business to align its goals and stay ahead of the competition.”
In golf, one of the most statistically intense of all sports, new analytical approaches are achieving exceptional results.
Ahead of The 2016 Ryder Cup in Hazeltine, Minnesota, the pressure on both captains - Davis Love III for the U.S. team, Darren Clarke for the Europeans — to emulate such seismic achievements is growing. With many of the world’s best golfers available to them there is widespread public expectation of amazing results, because these players bestride the world’s golf courses year-round, winning plaudits and sporting crowns wherever they go.
To stay sharp and stay ahead of one another, the two golf captains have to craft teams that can take on the challenger mentality, look to do things differently and thrive on tension.
“I’m looking for guys who can handle pressure. There’s never been so much pressure on a U.S. golf team,” says Davis Love III, reflecting on the U.S. teams’ run of poor results against Europe in The Ryder Cup, which stretches back to 2008. Despite this recent record, Europe is still somehow viewed as being the tournament’s underdog, which makes Darren Clarke laugh. “That’s what we want!” he cries.
“Data helps a company to align its goals and stay ahead of the competition.”
Whether favorite or underdog, retaining focus and sharpness when the eyes of the world are upon you, as Love’s golfers will find when they take to the Hazeltine course in September, is easier said than done.
Love has set up bonding sessions, having had the team meet up at Jack Nicklaus’s home in February, for example. “We’re getting away from golf to do our team-building, like any good company does,” he says. His task is partly to soothe the players’ emotions, which naturally run high as this epic contest draws near.
He has also been studying the individual form and history of each of his 12 players, looking to capitalize on specific traits and qualities: the best putter from a certain distance, the most greens hit from 50 yards, and so on.
Over a decade since it happened, the lesson learned from that U.S. baseball coach’s data-driven success is still relevant for The 2016 Ryder Cup’s captains—as it also is for today’s forward-looking business leaders.
Mr. Comastri cites more accurate decision-making, the ability to benchmark performance and to identify potential as some of the key advances of data analytics, and says there are vivid parallels in sport.
The power of data to transform performance is now central to results, he stresses.
For Davis Love III, aiming to achieve the first U.S. win in The Ryder Cup for eight years, one thing is clear: to stay sharp, you’ve got to think smart.