It was only a mat­ter of time

Data an­a­lyt­ics makes its way into curl­ing

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS - BY DONNA SPENCER

The coach of Rachel Homan’s curl­ing team is a clin­i­cal psy­chol­ogy stu­dent who be­lieves in the power of num­bers.

When On­tario is on the ice at the Cana­dian women’s curl­ing cham­pi­onship, Adam Kings­bury is perched on the coach’s bench at the home end with spread­sheets on a lap­top in front of him.

Data an­a­lyt­ics in sport, pop­u­lar­ized by the base­ball book “Money­ball’’, have in­fil­trated curl­ing. The phi­los­o­phy is large swaths of num­bers can be crunched in a myr­iad of ways to build pro­jec­tion mod­els.

“I be­lieve that our gut and our in­tu­ition of­ten lie to us and will tell us things about a mo­ment or a sit­u­a­tion that’s not al­ways true,’’ Kings­bury said. “When we col­lect mul­ti­ple ob­ser­va­tions about what’s hap­pen­ing out there, there’s a lot of in­ter­est­ing things that we can do with the power of num­bers to bet­ter in­form de­ci­sion-mak­ing.’’

So Kings­bury’s role is less about giv­ing ad­vice to Homan on ‘What shot shall we try here?’ and more about ex­trap­o­lat­ing from data the in­for­ma­tion to help her make that de­ci­sion.

“Adam is kind of push­ing a dif­fer­ent en­ve­lope and work­ing on the men­tal side of the game,’’ Homan ex­plained. “He’s track­ing things for us, mak­ing sure we’re ready and get­ting as much in­for­ma­tion as he can.’’

Curl­ing is tai­lor-made for an­a­lyt­ics. There is a sea of statis­tics eas­ily ac­cessed on­line and stats have be­come more so­phis­ti­cated over the years.

At this year’s Scotties Tour­na­ment of Hearts, for ex­am­ple, one can see on Curl­ing Canada’s web­site that Homan was 82 per cent suc­cess­ful throw­ing 15 raise take­outs us­ing an in­turn in the pre­lim­i­nary round.

Hav­ing some­one crunch num­bers to de­ter­mine your team’s strengths and weak­nesses, and also the op­po­si­tion’s, can be a valu­able tool in a game.

Lead Lisa Wea­gle said Kings­bury pro­vided each mem­ber of the team with a scout­ing re­port on them­selves half­way through this sea­son.

“When we were look­ing at our gap anal­y­sis, we needed a guy like Adam,’’ Wea­gle said.

Also, if the data in­di­cates some­one on the op­pos­ing team isn’t strong on a par­tic­u­lar shot, why not force to her play it, if that is an op­tion?

“When you no­tice that there is a 15, 16, 17 per cent dif­fer­ence be­tween cer­tain turns, that might tell you some­thing,’’ Kings­bury said.

But his anal­y­sis also in­cor­po­rates el­e­ments that might not seem ob­vi­ously mea­sur­able.

“With data, you are lim­ited only by the ques­tions that you ask,’’ he said. “What hap­pens when you play two games and you have to play the very next morn­ing and you’ve only had four hours of sleep? What hap­pens when you for­get to eat a proper meal?

“Data will help us see if the things we’re try­ing to work on are ac­tu­ally work­ing.’’

A PhD stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Ot­tawa, Kings­bury’s the­sis is on fine-mo­tor skill per­for­mance un­der pres­sure with putting in golf as his sub­ject.

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