Last Week in Applied Sports Science, 8/3-8/9

NFL, Premier League and College Football are almost here. Skill, luck and sports science will all play roles as teams win, lose and separate into contenders and non-contenders. Columbia University professor and Credit Suisse managing director Michael Mauboussin has been speaking about his book The Success Equation: Untangling Skill and Luck and often bringing up sports in the process.

During his recent talk at Google Mauboussin points out that soccer takes more skill to win than football does (and basketball takes more skill than both). He also mentions the Paradox of Skill, that luck will often determine the winner and loser in games between highly skilled opponents playing high-skill sports. Fitness and sports science are skills, skills that can be force-multipliers against opponents who cannot match those advantages.

With the football seasons ramping teams are developing strategies that will put their skills to best use. The teams that win the big games, the games against the other high-skill teams, and ultimately win the championships will also be lucky, more so in European football than in American football.

Of all the footballs the big games are most frequent in the NFL, the game with the most closely matched talent among teams. Luck won’t just swing games, it will swing which teams make it into contention. In major NCAA college football the talent is far more diffuse, making the conferences a critical clustering factor. Power conferences exist in college but not in the pros, though you would point out that UEFA has its elite national leagues in England, Spain, France and Germany.

The conference competition raises the stakes. In terms of using science to boost skill (and offset luck) it gives the teams in tough conferences the incentive to do more with sports science, and to innovate in pursuit on competitive advantages. Big in-season games aren’t just an opportunity for players to raise their level. They are an important way for organizations to judge how effective the sports science initiative is.

The Best Things I Read Last Week:

And the Thing I Read Last Week That Got the Most Science Wrong

  • Is Deron Williams slow?   The Brooklyn Game … Yes. Deron Williams is slow. The problematic analysis takes SportVu data to make unkind comparisons between Williams and World Champion Tony Parker, and between Williams and son-of Olympian Michael Conley. The season-long charts tell more how each player was used (and overused) during the season and playoffs than it does about each player’s speed.

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