West Coast Eagles coach Adam Simpson has said getting the right balance between art and science will become increasingly important as the AFL gets more focused on data and analytics.
Simpson, who is entering his fourth season in charge of the Eagles, was delivering a lecture on sports science at Edith Cowan University’s Joondalup campus on Tuesday afternoon.
He said a recent overseas trip undertaken to study other sporting codes had left him with the impression that the AFL was perhaps the most data-centric sport in the world.
“There’s almost an overload with AFL,” he said.
“It’s probably the most analysed sport in the world.
“It would have to be number one at data.”
And Simpson said we haven’t reached ‘peak data’ yet.
“I think analytics is going to take another step forward,” he said.
“We can benchmark players. It’s already heading in that direction.
“The software package I saw last week, where every player is tracked like a checkers piece on the ground now.
“You’re not even looking at vision, you’re just looking at these dots with a player’s number.
“And if you click on that player it can tell you how fast they’re running, if they’ve got the ball, what they’ve done with it.
“So analytics is going to go through the roof.”
Simpson said the Eagles high performance teams mapped out every minute of every player’s pre-season program.
“I’ll get minutes given to me at the start of pre-season, I’ll get every minute given right up until February,” he said.
“So (for instance) February 14, we can train for 30 minutes, because that’s where we’re going to be on and off the track with the players.
“We’re really well prepared as a coaching group because every second counts when you train.”
Simpson said the club had identified a drop-off in its contested ball numbers in 2016, and joked about finding the time to work on the issue.
“I think it’s pretty clear to us, we’ve got to get better at the contest,” he said.
“That’s our problem, let’s fix it – I want to train it.
“So then I go to our sports science boys and go ‘right, I want to train the contest’ and they go ‘well, you’ve got four minutes in February to do that’,” he laughed.
For all the reliance on big data, AFL clubs are still driven by people.
Simpson said caring for his players and keeping them engaged was just as important as logging their running times.
“I’m in my fourth year and I think there’s still so much of a balance between art and science, and when I say art I mean how you treat people, your empathy,” he said.
“Where are they at? How’s my message going?
“If I had to talk to you guys every day, how would you be in four years?
“My next challenge is what do I do to keep these guys engaged?”