Sports Science: Week in Review, May 8-May 14

Talent identification has become an important intersection for the managers, analysts and scientists in sports. The idea of sports’ organization making good use of undervalued athletes’ has been central to sports decision-making (and storytelling) since Michael Lewis’ Moneyball was published in 2003. No surprise that the idea continues to evolve, not that it was ever as simple as the story Lewis told

The co-dependence between management, analysts and sports science to the task of talent identification makes for an interesting dynamic. Managers frame the discussion in terms of organizational and financial impacts. That’s different from analysts who make comparisons and predictions from the available data and from scientists who key on athletes’ health and performance.

The job descriptions are fluid. The Indianapolis Colts hired a former Special Forces military officer to the team’s personnel staff. I think it’s evidence that no organization has completely solved talent identification.

The analysts and sports scientists will say they have solved isolated parts of the larger talent identification problem. For example, Nylon Calculus willingly makes blanket assessments about the limitations of the tallest athletes and what that means for basketball. Sports scientists benefit from the academic literature to present a consensus viewpoint on prerequisites and precursors of athletic talent.

Often missing in the talent identification discussion is the role the athlete plays in his or her own development. A university sports administrator explained to me that college does one crucial thing for athletes: it teaches them to self-motivate and self-discipline, and not rely on something external. According the USA Volleyball’s John Kessel, the best way to administer sports is to make progress the result of self-selection (as much as possible). He titled the
2014 essay “STOP Cutting Players” and it makes the point that cuts are the result of unmet demand for sports leagues that athletes want to participate in.

The Kessel approach favors talent pipelines over talent prediction. Reducing predictions’ significance focuses analysts’ tasks on collecting and managing information, and focuses sports performance staff on physical preparation and injury prevention. Also, de-emphasizing predictionss might be a good thing for sports, given how infrequently they bear out.

More on science for athlete development and talent identification:

  • Prognostic factors for musculoskeletal injury identified through medical screening and training load monitoring in professional football (soccer): a systematic review. (British Journal of Sports Medicine)
  • Robert Sapolsky: The biology of our best and worst selves (
  • Youth Performance Training (Michael Boyle’s Blog)
  • Relationship between Pre-Training Subjective Wellness Measures, Player Load and Rating of Perceived Exertion Training Load in American College Football. (International Journal of Sports Physiology & Performance)
  • More analysis for athlete development and talent identification:

  • The influence of successive matches on match-running performance during an under-23 international soccer tournament: The necessity of individual analysis. (Journal of Sports Sciences)
  • MLS Defenders are Getting Older (American Soccer Analysis, Kevin Minkus)
  • Does the NBA Draft Combine still matter? (Vox Media, SB Nation, Paul Flannery)
  • Size Matters (Ben Falk, Cleaning the Glass blog)
  • Kevin Durant calls NBA combine a waste of time for top prospects (ESPN NBA, Chris Haynes)
  • How Data Science is Transforming the Game of Basketball (Heleo, Daniel Pink and Adam Silver)
  • Managing Decisions and an MLB Team (FanGraphs Baseball, Travis Sawchik)
  • Why a league of parity is evolving into haves and have-nots (FourFourTwo, Paul Tenorio)
  • More on individual athletes and their development:

  • Aaron Lennon struggles sad but far from unusual in football (ESPN FC, Tony Evans)
  • Eric Thames and the Transformative Power of Boredom (FanGraphs Baseball, Travis Sawchik)
  • Harry Giles is the 2017 NBA Draft’s biggest wild card (Fansided, The Step Back, Trevor Magnotti)
  • $150 to Try Out: Spurs Guard Jonathon Simmons’s Story of Perseverance (The New York Times, Scott Cacciola)
  • Hamidou Diallo Hasn’t Played a Game in Months. But His Draft Stock Is Rising. (The New York Times, Adam Zagoria)
  • NFL Draft riser Haason Reddick says his incredible story is only getting started – (, Jason La Canfora)
  • Jed Bradley, No Longer Enjoying the Game He Loves, Walks Away at 26 (FanGraphs Baseball, David Laurila)
  • More on health, injuries and athlete development:

  • An ACL injury is no longer a career killer, but can athletes ever truly be the same? (The Guardian, Ian McMahon)
  • Cowboys must brace for reality with Jaylon Smith (The San Diego Union-Tribune, ProFootballDoc)
  • Finding Your Asymmetries and Fixing the Uneven Body (Breaking Muscle, Justin Lind)
  • Athlete Screening Part 1: Movement Screens (Driveline Baseball)
  • More on teams’ approaches to athlete development and talent identification:

  • Arsenal Stood Still While Its Rivals Got Better (FiveThirtyEight, Mike Goodman)
  • Nick Saban: Redshirt-year games would ‘enhance development’ (ESPN College Football, Edward Aschoff)
  • At Italy’s Coaching Academy, a Pipeline of Champions (The New York Times, Rory Smith)
  • Champs conveyor belt keeps Jamaican sprinting’s speed feed flowing (The Guardian, Sean Ingle)
  • Chelsea’s ‘secret’ methods key to lack of injuries – Antonio Conte (ESPN FC, Liam Twomey)
  • Admiring Juventus’s Greatness, and Dreaming About Monaco’s Potential (The New York Times, Rory Smith)
  • More things that I read and liked last week:

  • How Collaboration Leads To Innovation (May 17, Block Six Analytics, Adam Grossman)
  • Nutrition is Iowa’s next frontier in college football development’s feeding frenzy (May 12, Des Moines Register, Chris Cuellar)
  • A Tactical Foundation (May 14, LinkedIn, Fergus Connolly)
  • How Consumer Technology Is Driving Innovation in Medical Devices (May 08, MDDI Medical Device and Diagnostic Industry News Products and Suppliers, Steven LeBoeuf, PhD)
  • Why a league of parity is evolving into haves and have-nots (May 08, FourFourTwo, Paul Tenorio)
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