I am back in my hotel room after a long but very productive first day of the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Soccer was not the theme of the day today, and I saw only bits and pieces of some sessions. There was the opening session on developing modern athletes in 10,000 hours (chaired by Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers which presented the "10,000 hour rule"), the lunch session with US Olympian Apolo Anton Ohno, an Evolution of Sport talk on the foundation of elite sports analytics, an afternoon session on (gridiron) football analytics and the late session on referee analytics.
As was the case last year, the sessions were useful for gaining a high-level view of how the end users use analytical approaches to assess performance and improve on it. In particular I enjoyed the interview with Ohno in which he presented an illuminating description of how systematic training and preparation with feedback from performance-based measurements made him a better athlete and, in his case, an eight-time Olympic medalist. The session on referee analytics was also great, and Mike Carey is an excellent representative for the NFL, which perhaps explains why they allowed him to participate. However, I felt most of the participants were guarded in what they said, for fear of revealing too much about the methodologies of their business or their clubs, or for fear of saying the wrong thing in a public forum (Mark Cuban made a point to mention that the NBA had advised him to watch what he said, but I don't know if he was serious or just trying to be funny).
The true value of this conference has been the interaction with fellow soccer analysts and vendors in the hallways. There were so many people I met today, some of whom I wanted to meet for some time, other who I only knew from email correspondence or from their blogs. The contacts that I've made have been extremely valuable and I look forward to building on these meetings to establish partnerships and further interaction in the future. There are too many people to list in this post so I'll just say that it was a pleasure to meet all of those I met today.
The day was capped with an informal dinner with some of the soccer analytics people and those interested in the field. Thanks to Steve, Michael, Fran, Chris, and Sarah for attending! It started small, but it will get bigger in future years and hopefully a highlight of the conference. We just have to make sure that it's not competing with a Celtics game!
Tomorrow is the soccer analytics session, which starts at 10:30am Eastern time. I have not been told that I cannot liveblog it, so I think I will provided that I can find a desk. I'll tweet to confirm my intentions about 30 minutes before the session starts, so stay tuned for that.