Mathematics Skills Shine in New Field of Sports Analytics

Mathematics Skills Shine in New Field of Sports Analytics

Image courtesy Wolf Gang | Flickr

One of the best ways to get students excited about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is to show how these subjects relate to everyday life. When it comes to mathematics, one exciting area of everyday relevance is sports. Sports analytics is a major career field these days, with the 2011 movie Moneyball highlighting the importance of this new industry to Major League Baseball. In that film, which was based on the nonfiction book of the same name, the Oakland Athletics management adopts a more analytical, empirical approach to scouting, rather than the intuitive methods traditionally used. The management uses metrics like on-base percentage and other statistics to assess and identify players who are undervalued.

However, baseball is not the only sport that relies on statistical analysis. Read on to learn more about the fun career field of sports analytics.


Areas of Study

Sports analytics can be applied to any sport, which makes the field accessible to a broad range of students, no matter if they’re interested in individual or team sports, or men’s or women’s sports. Any interest in athletics can be the basis for a career in sports analytics.

In addition to its use in many sports, another reason why sports analytics appeals to so many people is because many of the professions and fields that support the professional sports industry involve data analysis. For example, a professional sports team is also a business, and analysts are needed to provide financial analyses of ticket sales and pricing, marketing plans, and advertising contracts.

Another specialty area within sports analytics is athlete health and wellness. In this field, professionals conduct research to determine athletes’ optimal sleep times, nutritional needs, and ways to prevent injuries. Similarly, sports operations is another major focus within sports analytics. Sports operations includes matters such as play strategizing and tactics, field or court coverage, and competitive analysis in player recruiting.



For those who decide to pursue a career in sports analytics, there are plenty of opportunities to share their love of data and sports with others in the same field. In recent years, the number of professional conferences devoted to sports analytics has multiplied. A partial listing includes conferences at major academic institutions across the United States. Along the East Coast, Rochester Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, Pennsylvania State University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology all host conferences focused on sports analytics. In the Midwest, the University of St. Thomas and the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point hold similar events, as do Furman University, the University of South Florida, and the University of Tennessee-Knoxville in the Southeast.

Some of the featured speakers at these conferences include NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, mathematician and former NFL player John Urschel, Moneyball author and journalist Michael Lewis, ESPN the Magazine’s Peter Keating, Tampa Bay Lightning Assistant General Manager Julien Brisebois, Dan Hauser of the Philadelphia 76ers, and Minnesota Twins Director of Baseball Operations Daniel Adler.

These conferences provide opportunities to hear presentations on a wide variety of sports analytics topics, as well as the chance to network with both sports and analytics professionals. Admission prices to these conferences differ, but some feature free or low-cost registration fees, making the opportunity to hear from leading figures in the field a realistic prospect for many.





More opportunities for learning, professional development, and networking are available to those who join professional organizations dedicated to sports analytics. The Association of Sports Analytics Professionals (ASAP) focuses on a variety of sports analytics interest areas, including business analytics, performance analytics, academia, media, and technology. ASAP also maintains a blog that covers topics in the field such as using data for marketing promotions, the role of collective bargaining in sailing’s Americas Cup, and questions of data ownership. Other resources provided by ASAP include a bibliography of sports analytics books and a job board. Membership is available to professionals, students, vendors, and other organizations. Different types of memberships come with different fees, with the lowest fees reserved for students.



For those who want to learn more about sports analytics and get a taste for the kind of questions and problems that the field addresses, several journals publish sports analytics research. These publications include the Journal of Sports Analytics, Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports, International Journal of Computer Science in Sport, Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, and the International Journal of Sports Science and Engineering.

Topics covered in recent issues of these journals have included pitch framing by baseball catchers, predicting wins in tennis, the impact of individual players on NBA teams, fantasy football draft management, the behavior of ultrarunners in 24-hour races, injury patterns in Australian rules football, individual player speed in field hockey, the effect of age on soccer players, and the use of Internet software for a tele-exercise calisthenics program, just to name a few.