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Rugby team deploys predictive analytics to reduce injuries, boost performance

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Analytics are becoming a critical asset for professional sports teams, as sports increasingly become a technical and scientific business. Like any commercial organization, the Leicester Tigers – nine-time champions of English rugby union’s Premiership and two-time European champions – are faced with challenges around growing and retaining talent, measuring performance, optimizing tactics and detecting risk.

The rugby team uses IBM predictive analytics software to assess the likelihood of injury to players and then uses the insight to deliver personalized training programs for players at risk. The ultimate aim for Leicester is to apply analytics in order to keep the team injury-free for longer, because in the modern game, losing key players can negatively impact the team’s performance and potentially spectator attendance.

IBM predictive analytics is designed to enable the Tigers to broaden and deepen the analysis of both objective and subjective raw data, such as fatigue and game intensity levels. Hence, Leicester Tigers can rapidly analyze such physical and biological information for all 45 rugby players in its squad in order to detect and predict patterns or anomalies.

“Our team has always been proud of challenging at the top of national and European rugby competitions, but it gets more competitive every year and our focus must be on helping our players stay injury free for longer,” says Andrew Shelton, head of Sports Science for Leicester. “There is a tremendous value to be gained by retaining experienced players within the squad and we are confident that, by adopting predictive analytics, our team will be able to leverage data about the physical condition of players for the first time and considerably enhance our performance.”

IBM predictive analytics also allow the Tigers to analyze psychological player data in order to reveal other key factors that may affect performance. For instance, away games could cause higher stress levels than home games, and social or environmental stress could significantly change the way players perform during a match or predispose a player to injury.

“Sport is no longer just a game, it’s becoming more and more a scientific undertaking which is driven by data and numbers,” says Jeremy Shaw, director, IBM Business Analytics for Media and Entertainment, United Kingdom. “Gone are the days of relying on raw talent and gut instinct alone to succeed.”

Nurturing talent will always be an important aspect of team success, and the Tigers use predictive analytics solutions at the very early stages of each player’s career to ensure it has the best selection of rugby talent. The software will be applied across Leicester’s under-19 academy players to create a more refined selection process and to ensure a higher percentage of young talent is brought up to the first team.

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