Bringing Sports Data Analytics into Your Classroom

For sports fan, and those living or interacting with sports fans, fall is go time. With the changing of the season, we’re blessed by: the second half of the Major League Baseball (MLB) and Major League Soccer (MLS) regular seasons, the launch the National Football League (NFL) preseason, and the buzz around National Hockey League (NHL) and National Basketball Association (NBA) teams that will officially begin play in October. Fall, too, brings a similar buzz among students, parents, and teachers that looks at the year ahead. Instead of donning your lucky jersey, you’re gearing up for back to school season.

Teachers and coaches alike make decisions in the classroom and on the court that are dictated by data. Whether is it deciding on the topics to review at the beginning of the school year based on student diagnostics, or setting the starting line-up based on a players’ shooting percentage in practice the previous week, leaders look to the numbers to better understand the skills of the group in front of them.

Bridging this gap for kids– showing them that their sport idols can be assessed based on how their performance looks via a statistical calculation– can become critical to their own field/court/pitch (and academic) improvement.

Proof Points

At the 2017 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, John Drazan (@Sports2STEM) presented (and later was awarded) on research findings showing that the marrying of sports and analytics not only has major effects on the largest stages, but also in youth communities. Specifically looking at basketball in groups of students who may not typically be exposed to STEM topics, they found that when students are able to bring the data and analytics to life, it allows for a “rigorous, yet tangible application of math and statistics in which youth perform data gathering and analysis directly linked to their own improved on-court performance.”

From Court to Classroom

Where to start? Simple data collection based on shots to goal. This example uses basketball, but students can track similar statistics in bowling, soccer, or hockey.

  • Identify 10 – 15 spots on the court that students will shoot from.
  • Have the students take three shots from each location and mark it on their sheet to use in later analysis.
  • Give each student a set of translucent stickers (that when stuck on top of one another will appear darker)
  • Students will create a heat map of their own shots, then together the class can make a group map
  • Analyze the number of shots taken per spot, and the number of spots made to understand where a goal is more likely to be scored

Real World Learning Matters

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Real Life Research

Though the concept gained popularity following the days of Billy Beane and the popular 2003 book and 2011 movie Moneyball, the idea of “Sabermetrics” has been around for centuries. Sabermetrics are the metrics used to analyze the performance of individual baseball players. This type of  statistical analysis is on the minds of big leaguers, and can also be used as a classroom activity. Have students calculate the On-Base Percentage of their favorite players or even themselves after gym.

On-Base Percentage measures the how often a batter reaches a base, and it is approximately equal to the number of times a player is on based, divided by the number of opportunities that have to bat. The full formula is OBP = (Hits + Walks + Hit by Pitch) / (At Bats + Walks + Hit by Pitch + Sacrifice Flies).

Setting Your Own Stakes

No basketball or baseball fans in your classroom? Students can create their own experiment, based on their favorite sport! Have them consider the questions below:

  1.     What kind of data is gathered for your favorite sport?
  2.     How many games per season do you (or your professional team) play, and how does that affect your data? (MLB – 162, NHL – 82, NFL – 16)
  3.     How is your data gathered? Do you need technology?
  4.     What decisions can this data help make?

Taking it to the Big Leagues

Though not everyone will be the next all-star recruit, students interested in data can stay close to sports even in their careers. Share how this Washington D.C. native realized that early on in life, but has gone on to make quite the successful STEM career, driving decisions that helped lead the Washington Capitals to be 2018 Stanley Cup Champions.

Or how about a career which started as an entrepreneurial venture that is now the leading wearable sports clothing technology company? Or a start-up that has taken traditional sabermetrics and created devices that measure performance in real-time? It all started by looking at the numbers, and understanding that the data tells a story.

Bring sports analytics in your classroom and you’ll see the data that students create on the court can influence the data they create in the grade book.