by George Baldini and Kendall Thomas
~ The end of the school year marks a break from exams, homework, and classes. It’s also a desirable time to dive into experiences outside the classroom, notably in research or an internship. Academic research allows students to explore untrodden intellectual territory and potentially create new knowledge. Business internships allow undergraduates an opportunity to apply their academic learning to business, try their hand in industry, and potentially make connections for future employment. Research or business internship? Many data analytics companies hire rising seniors with a possible job offer coming at summer’s end. We are rising juniors. Internships are possible but difficult to find. What did we decide for our summer? Both!
This summer, we worked at Davidson College with Dr. Tim Chartier in an internship with Athlete Intelligence. Athlete Intelligence is sports technology and data analytics company headquartered in Kirkland, Washington. The company makes wearable devices for athletes, like mouthguards (seen below) and helmet sensors, that track head impacts as well as biometric data. These devices provide instantaneous data for each impact during a session, alerting coaches and training staff if an impact magnitude exceeds a preset threshold or a player surpasses a certain number of hits in a small period of time. Their unique user platform empowers coaches and athletic trainers to access useful insights from this data to help reduce the risk of injury and improve performance.
Our group served as a data analytics research branch of the company. As Jesse Harper, CEO of the company stated, “This is a mission to Mars. We’ll know what we find when we find it.”
If you don’t know where you’re going, where do you begin? With analytics, a first step is data. The company supplied impact data from high school and college football teams for one or more seasons. For each impact, Athlete Intelligence devices record the corresponding player, position, head location, magnitude, and time.
Armed with data, we turned to research goals. First, find “coachable moments,” actionable insights which aid coaches. For example, one team’s impacts increased towards the end of the game, possibly from fatigue’s effect on technique. If a coach verified fatigue’s influence, the team could emphasize conditioning and remind players to keep their heads up when tackling late in games.
Our second goal, connecting to the first goal, enrich the data. We wanted to add data that leads to additional insights. Since Athlete Intelligence will partner with Davidson Women’s Soccer team this fall, we asked our soccer coaches what data they currently track and would like to track in the future. In the end, we augmented the data with hours of sleep for each player, weather, elevation, location, and type of event (game or practice).
While the new data came from our soccer coaches’ interests, we added these new data points to our current impact data, which occurred in football. Insight followed. For example, one team’s centers and defensive ends were hit significantly harder in games than in practices; and, a little unnerving, quarterbacks and special teams got hit harder in practice than in games as seen in the graph below. An immediate question followed: why? Presented with such information, coaches could revisit game tape and practice plans to identify these situations and make any necessary adjustments.
To conclude our summer, we visited the company’s office in Kirkland. We presented our research and discussed how it could enrich the company’s user platform. Our research met their business goals and would help the company.
Our summer was fascinating and productive. Our internship introduced us to a new company, exposed us to cutting edge research, and included a trip to the Seattle area. Even better, our work wouldn’t end with the summer. While in Kirkland, our Athlete Intelligence colleagues presented us with more interesting projects. We enter the fall ready to get back to work through our continued collaboration and make more impacts with our analytics research.