While ESPN and the New York Times duked it out over which media giant would ultimately seduce celebrity statistician Nate Silver (congrats, ESPN), our team has been hard at work designing new, more effective ways to visualize and interpret real-time sports data for a new company that combines the best of sport and educational technology – ARC Madness™.
Several months ago, Steve Piazza, founder and executive hoopster of ARC Madness, approached us with a challenge to capture, make sense of, and bring to life an array of real-time data for his on-court video analysis system, which focuses primarily on helping youth basketball players master the art of the free throw. Countless conversations, strategy sessions, and meaty design and development work later – not to mention one mildly hilarious but profoundly insightful in-person team trial – the ARC Madness revolution has reached the MVP stage (that is, minimum viable product, not most valuable player … that comes later).
Playing Moneyball with ARC Madness Founder Steve Piazza
Sports analytics have historically been synonymous with baseball, and despite growing interest and support for evidence-based, quantitative metrics in sports, the application of visualization technology to this kind of data for training and coaching purposes is surprisingly scarce.
Steve, along with the ARC Madness founding team, form a healthy assembly of sport and science experts, passionate about advancing youth basketball training through a multi-pronged approach including technical and interpersonal – qualitative and quantitative – mentorship.
Together, this team built the scaffolding for the unique ARC Madness training system. Steeped in both cognitive and biomechanics learning theories, the ARC Madness coaching experience involves phases of real-time da
ta capture analysis, live on-court training and analysis provided by professional coaches and, perhaps most vitally, access to a web-based application summarizing a player’s results for extended, longer-term learning and benchmarking.
The results of their combined expertise offer players the opportunity to BEEF up their game through:
- Studying their shots
- Recognizing and understanding their tendencies
- Applying their new knowledge to make significant, incremental improvements
- Reflecting on and evaluating their progress, extending the learning process off-court
- Comparing their technique with other team members
- Practicing and improving their skills on an ongoing basis through physical and mental rigor
In terms of the wider world of sports data analysis, Steve Piazza’s methods may well be to youth basketball what Moneyball’s Billy Beane is to baseball.
Unlocking the competitive advantage: From “big data” to small but mighty breakthrough
Steve’s a bit of a free throw scientist with some impressive adaptations of theories surrounding the mechanics of this shot. Established metrics measuring players’ free throw accuracy revolve around tracking and analyzing the ARC, beginning with the launch angle, distance and speed of the ball. Between Steve’s basketball expertise and our team’s intimate understanding of systems architecture, software development, data analysis, and design, we had to put our brains together on how to make the story of the ARC come to life in a visual, reader-friendly way.
While visualizing data implies a heavy demand on design, our team of developers also faced ample challenges. Stéphane Guigné, web developer and mathematical point guard, spent the majority of his time architecting the system so that the raw data captured live by the on-court precision camera hardware, developed by Quebec-based INO, would be converted into a language relevant to the native software environment.
That’s not an easy task when dealing with parsing data from motion capture technology, where a lot could potentially be lost in translation if that critical information isn’t funnelled into the right back-end configuration. Add to that the challenge of delivering all this information in a wide range of visualizations, and Stéphane had his work cut out for him.
For Lyndon Mayer, Invoke’s lead interaction designer, the next set of decisions revolved around what data to display at each juncture, “I wanted the player to experience the data in a very visceral way, while ensuring that the results are meaningful, immediately actionable, and most importantly, extremely digestible for young athletes.”
Naturally, a lengthy and detailed research and discovery process can only be validated with some real live testing. In the second part of this post, we dive further into how these theories played out when Steve and the Invoke team hit the hardwood.