How The NFL Is Gathering Data To Enhance Competition And Player Safety

This Thursday, NFL football is back! Chances are you’ve already circled your team’s critical games on the calendar, cleaned off your grill, finalized your fantasy roster, and broken out those team jerseys. We’re all excited for the amazing catches, huge hits, and unbelievable runs we’re going to see for the next five months.

Included in this new season of football are new players, new contracts, new rules, new coaches, and more. Along with these new additions comes increasing focus by the NFL on gathering data to gain insights into things like player movement, strategy effectiveness, and player safety. In the last three years alone, the league has made substantial strides to improve the quality and quantity of data gathered by teams to provide more oversight, keep players safe, and allow for more effective recruiting, trading, and drafting.

Tracking Player Movement

One of the recent pieces of technology utilized by NFL teams is a small chip, no bigger than the size of a quarter, that is sewn into players’ practice and game uniforms to track their movements. From this small, almost weightless device, countless points of data about players’ motion and activity are made available to teams. An offensive coordinator, for example, can use the information to evaluate their players’ in-game stats, including speed off the line of scrimmage, separation from the defender, types of catches, and more.

Similarly, a head coach can track their injured players’ movement in practice to make sure they aren’t over-exerting themselves. Take, for example, a running back who is nursing an injured ankle and is working to get back to full health. The team doctors advise the coach that the player shouldn’t run more than 3 miles in total during practice. Thanks to the chip in the players uniform, the coach will know how much their injured player is moving around and can shut him down once he reaches his recommended maximum output. Having access to data about player movement allows for significant improvement in quantitative evaluation of players. This new information will help teams make critical free agent decisions in the off season and will impact teams’ tactics and strategies on game day.

Gathering Collision Data

Player safety is another crucial area that the NFL has improved upon due to new insights from gathering data. With advances in nutrition, training, and wellness, today’s players are faster, stronger, and more athletic than ever. That’s why the NFL has gone to great lengths to protect its players from serious, potentially life threatening injuries. One of the ways they’re doing so is by gathering data about impact to the head. 

Any blow to the head can have potential life-long consequences. As a result, the NFL has worked with headgear manufacturers to create helmets that include sensors to record data about impact. One manufacturer, Riddell, uses an InSite Impact Response System, which uses a five-zone sensor pad in the liner of the helmet to measure the severity of impacts. These sensors alert sideline staff if a player’s helmet registers an impact above a certain threshold and tracks the history of players’ collisions during games or practice. With this new insight into contact with the head, teams can take action to maximize their players’ safety, which could include taking them out of games, and the NFL can continue to develop helmets that protect players’ brains as effectively as possible.

Potential In Education

You may be wondering, what does this have to do with education? Nothing really, except that the NFL is demonstrating how implementing technology to collect data helps advance, develop, improve organizations and the products they produce. Schools across the country have started to gather data about their own operations and have gained insights such as which students are currently present in class, which instructors aren’t following policy, how externship site operations are running, and more. The potential for increased efficiency, heightened student retention, and improved compliance fueled by insights derived from gathered data is huge! And just like how teams that have embraced data in the NFL have experienced successful seasons (think Eagles in 2017), schools that choose to embrace data will see even more successful cohorts.

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