How Benfica & Cricket Australia make sense of data

Benfica Lab

Benfica Lab

BENFICA and Cricket Australia are pioneering use of a ‘player performance platform’ that enables them to make sense of their vast amounts of data.

Top teams have reams of data at their disposal - including how much players’ sleep, eat and train; how fast they run, tire or recover; and even how they feel psychologically.

Bringing all this together and making sense of it can be one of the biggest challenges facing any performance department.

As Michael Osborne, head of technology for Cricket Australia, says, “teams have the ability to collect a vast amount of data surrounding athletes, but the challenge is unlocking the insights buried in that data and making it more actionable."

Microsoft’s performance platform, powered by its Azure Cloud and Cortana Analytics Suite, uses machine learning, predictive analytics and visualisations to manage huge amounts of data.

Machine learning is the capability of a computer to learn by itself without having to be explicitly programmed.

Joao Copeto, Benfica’s chief information officer, explains: “The big advantage we have now is machine learning. Five years ago, we had to use our own data centres and servers to do the computations. Now we use Microsoft Azure, which is very powerful.

“Every club is looking for prediction models. We have very good models for player stress and for fatigue, but now machine learning can help to explore this even more.”

Cricket Australia announced their deal with Microsoft last November. They are the only cricket team currently using the platform.

Osborne said: “This will allow us to optimise our the time our sports scientists spend managing and analysing data and introduce more predictive, machine-learning elements into our analyses. The system will help Cricket Australia better manage the huge volume of performance data it tracks, report on athlete and team wellness, and even set intelligent alerts.

“The coaches will be helped by machine learning within the system, which will make recommendations and suggestions that will improve over time as more datasets come online. This is machine intelligence coming to life, leveraging Azure to refine coaching, training and wellbeing programs to help our cricketers compete internationally. The results will play out on the field. It’s about giving our teams every possible edge.

"Our sports science guys have been doing some very interesting things trying to understand probability of injury, and things like that. But what we're finding is, for a lot of our frontline coaching staff, there's almost too much data, and to get in and understand what the data is saying is a daunting task.”

The platform is presented on a dashboard that can give advanced warning about when a player is passing their limits and could be at risk of injury.

"The new platform takes this vast amount of data, provides an environment for our sports science folks to explore that data and find insights in it, and then provides a very elegant dashboard that will surface the trends and the information that will be impactful to the coaches,” Osborne added.

“It will look at how players perform in a given stadium, how they perform against different types of competition and give tips and insight for the coaching staff to help them train the players and help them decide on their tactics during an upcoming match.

“Frankly it’s not dissimilar to the challenges that any enterprise faces. Where you traditionally have lots of data but that data’s often siloed and so you really don’t get a holistic picture of whatever it is you’re looking at.

“You’re rarely going to make decisions on purely quantitative data, but what it’s trying to do, like any enterprise, is pull those data sources together to give you a much more holistic picture of what’s going on and provide an aid to whatever the process is you’re performing.”

More stories

Sign up to our newsletter to get all the latest news from The Guru