dataCoach

liz rutledge | thesis documentation site | parsons mfa design + technology

Archive
Writing + Research

Still definitely some work to be done, but anyone interested can see the current status of my thesis paper here.

Sooooo many pages!

view this post!

Current version of my exhibition plaque copy, trimmed all the way down to 195 words! It was definitely tricky trying to preserve the important “talking points” while not overwhelming the target audience (i.e. someone who doesn’t necessarily know what I’m talking about and whose interest is primarily as a passer-through/viewer as opposed to an academic critic). I’d love any feedback on whether or not I was too aggressive or not aggressive enough with my trimming shears!

The copy:

Sports represent the convergence of three main elements: practiced skill, physical effort, and data. And while the larger field of data visualization is experiencing unprecedented growth, the commonly available set of tools for collecting, visualizing, and analyzing game data for youth, high school, and recreational sports communities remains limited. In order to narrow this gap, dataPlay provides non-professional athletes with some of the same tools as their professional counterparts through a focused system of easy to use, cloud-based tools for the mobile collection, visualization, and analysis of sports statistics in real time.

The purpose of the dataPlay system is threefold: 1) to facilitate and encourage the collection of data, 2) to enhance traditional game statistics by tagging each piece of data with the location and time at which it was recorded, and 3) to enable deeper comprehension of the data through visual exploration of these preserved cause and effect relationships. With a full suite of tabs that allow scorekeepers, coaches, parents and players to augment their current practice with rich data tools, dataPlay investigates how the thoughtful reconfiguration of existing technologies can empower a wider sports community by helping them transform data into knowledge.

view this post!

Pervasive web technologies and the popularity of cloud computing have materially changed the way that data is collected, stored, and distributed—a change that has raised both the quantity and quality of publicly-available data. As a result, the data visualization community is experiencing unprecedented growth and visibility, simultaneously encouraging innovation and increasing the distance between industry leaders and certain smaller groups within the field.

Data_coach investigates this gap from the perspective of one of these niche fields: the collection and visualization of statistics for non-professional sports. Statistics tracking and analysis in professional sports has seen significant progress in the last 10 years, producing systems that are able to automatically track player movement and use that data to identify relevant statistics and trends in extraordinarily high fidelity. These systems, however, are prohibitively expensive and require extensive technical expertise to deploy, which greatly restricts their applicability to the wider sports community. Without access to these innovative tools, this larger community is forced to settle for a limited array of tools that lack robust integration between data collection and visualization, and which are often difficult to use. Data_coach addresses this problem by providing recreational and scholastic athletes with a focused system of easy to use, cloud-based tools for the mobile collection, visualization, and analysis of sports statistics in real time. This unique combination of low-cost web, mobile, and cloud-based technologies, the structure of which is driven by the fundamental principles of information design, is scalable to a wide array of sports and represents a new way of thinking about game data collection and visualization.

The overarching purpose of data_coach is to allow athletes and coaches to glean insight from their data through a series of interactive visualizations—effective visualizations, however, require good data, which first needs to be collected. In light of this fact, data_coach is designed around three main goals: 1) to facilitate and encourage the collection of data, 2) to enhance traditional game statistics by tagging each piece of data with the location and time at which it was recorded, and 3) to enable deeper comprehension of the data through visual exploration. This system will not only allow for the immediate visualization and interpretation of the data as the games are taking place, but will more also provide the coaches and players with a dataset that preserves the spatiotemporal (and consequently cause and effect) relationships between events. As a result, athletes and coaches will be able to visualize team or player-level trends over the entire season, drill down into a specific game-changing play to examine an exact sequence of events, or review stats across any timespan in between—without the prohibitive costs of professional-grade tools.

Data_coach: Lacrosse represents one possible implementation of this system: an iPad app that is tailored specifically to the young, rapidly growing sport of lacrosse. Through a case study focused on several youth lacrosse teams in New York and the Bay Area, data_coach: Lacrosse will demonstrate the proposed value of this type of system: how the thoughtful reconfiguration of existing technologies can empower a wider sports community by allowing them to transform data into knowledge.

view this post!

Driven largely by the rising popularity of interactive and pervasive web technologies and the vast amounts of data that the recent push to the cloud has made available, the field of data visualization has experienced a great surge in growth over the past several years. As the bleeding edge of the industry is pushed forward at a faster and faster rate with the help of complementary fields such as art, science, politics, and design, however, the distance between this rapidly moving frontier and certain smaller areas within the greater field of data visualization—specifically, those that lack the public interest or funding necessary to keep up with the state of the art—grows larger.

The collection and visualization of sports statistics for the non-professional athlete is a particularly interesting example of one of these trailing areas. Despite advances in the larger field, and most notably despite the incredible technological advances we have seen in professional sports for tracking and analyzing statistics, the commonly available set of tools for collecting, visualizing, and analyzing game data for members of sports communities that do not have the financial backing (and R&D labs) of the professional sports industry has remained relatively stagnant. In order to resolve this gap, and consequently provide these recreational and scholastic athletes with more sophisticated data tools, it is imperative that we study the techniques that have thrust the larger field of data visualization into the spotlight and apply them to the creation of intuitive and innovative interfaces for non-professional sports. And while no single product can bridge this gap on its own, I am working to bring us one step closer to that goal by creating a focused system of easy to use, cloud-based tools for the mobile collection, visualization, and analysis of sports statistics in real time.

The purpose of this system is threefold: 1) to facilitate and encourage the collection of data, 2) to enable deeper comprehension of the data through visual exploration, and 3) to enhance traditional game statistics by tagging each piece of data with the location and time at which it was recorded before sending it to the cloud. This will not only allow for the immediate visualization and interpretation of the data as the games are taking place, but will also provide the coaches and players with something much more meaningful: a dataset that preserves the spatiotemporal (and consequently cause and effect) relationships between events. This additional information will provide greater insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the players without sacrificing the traditional methods that they have grown accustomed to, resulting in a richer understanding of the data—all without the prohibitive costs of professional-grade tools.

data_coach explores one possible implementation of this system: an iPad app that is tailored specifically to the needs of lacrosse—a young, rapidly growing sport that currently lacks the level of infrastructure present in more established sports communities. Through a case study focused on several youth lacrosse teams in New York and the Bay Area, and calling upon my own 18 years of experience as both player and coach, my project will demonstrate how the thoughtful reconfiguration of existing technologies can empower a wider sports community by helping them transform data into knowledge.

view this post!

There is a growing gap between the rapidly expanding field of data visualization and sports statistics tracking at the non-professional level. I seek to bridge this gap by creating an ecosystem of easy to use, cloud-based tools for real-time mobile statistics collection and visualization. The purpose of this system is threefold: 1) to facilitate and encourage the collection of data, 2) to enable deeper comprehension of the data through visual exploration, and 3) to enhance traditional game statistics by tagging each piece of data with the location and time at which it was recorded. This will allow for both immediate data analysis and the preservation of spatiotemporal relationships between events—without the steep learning curve or prohibitive costs of professional-grade tools.

data_coach explores one possible implementation of this system: an iPad app tailored to the needs of lacrosse. Through a case study focused on several youth lacrosse teams in New York and the Bay Area, my project will demonstrate how the thoughtful reconfiguration of existing technologies can empower a wider sports community by helping them transform data into knowledge.

My thesis blog can be viewed at http://lizrutledge.com/mfa-thesis.

view this post!

There is a growing gap between the rapidly expanding field of data visualization and sports statistics tracking at the non-professional level. I seek to bridge this gap by creating an ecosystem of easy to use, cloud-based tools for real-time mobile statistics collection and visualization. The purpose of this system is threefold: 1) to facilitate and encourage the collection of data, 2) to enable deeper comprehension of the data through visual exploration, and 3) to enhance traditional game statistics by tagging each piece of data with the location and time at which it was recorded. This will allow for both immediate data analysis and the preservation of spatiotemporal relationships between events—without the steep learning curve or prohibitive costs of professional-grade tools.

GametimePLUS explores one possible implementation of this system: an iPad app tailored to the needs of lacrosse. Through a case study focused on several youth lacrosse teams in New York and the Bay Area, my project will demonstrate how the thoughtful reconfiguration of existing technologies can empower a wider sports community by helping them transform data into knowledge.

My thesis blog can be viewed at http://lizrutledge.com/mfa-thesis.

view this post!
The Concept

Capturing, tracking, and visualizing athletic performance data can be a significant factor in the development of athletes by creating an informative and motivational framework that defines measurable goals and allows the athletes to visualize their progress towards achieving those goals. Due to the associated costs of accurate and robust statistics collection, however, only extremely well-funded sports teams currently have the luxury of this training aid.

This thesis argues that by making sophisticated statistics tracking available to younger or lower-level teams without extensive financial backing we could improve the quality of training and coaching at a lower level, increase the retention of athletes that might otherwise drop out, contribute to a more rewarding emotional experience for the athletes, and potentially improve the performance of athletes across all levels of play by giving them access to these sophisticated tools early in their training.

Furthermore, if we could create a way for these athletes to track a greater range of performance data than is currently available through the use of sensor-driven passive data collection, then they would have access to a much more robust and accurate set of feedback that would allow them to push their performance to an even higher level and potentially provide for a richer or more rewarding experience.

The form of this thesis project will be a system of web applications (in the form of a suite of coordinating iPhone/mobile phone, iPad/tablet, and desktop/laptop-based apps) for members of the girls’ lacrosse community. This series of apps would allow users to collect, visualize, and effectively analyze team, player and game data in real time (where data spans a wide range of information from basic scheduling to statistics and commentary to photos of games or other team-related events). I also plan to investigate the viability of creating a lower-cost way to passively collect game and player data using physical computing. This part of the project would involve a system of sensors and wireless communication components that would allow a central database to track the activity of any player during a game or practice. Data that I hope to be able to gather through the use of these sensors includes the identity of the player currently holding the ball, running speed, shot speed and placement, and potentially even data as specific as where on the head of the stick the player is making contact with the ball.

The audience for this project can currently be defined as members of the lacrosse community that are frequent users of mobile technology, and who place some level of importance on the performance of their community’s girls lacrosse team(s). Due to the higher level of data fidelity and specificity that could be provided by the passive sensors, I am currently considering the age group of the target audience to be approximately high-school age girls and their parents and coaches. (Younger teams could also benefit greatly from the data, but require a much more complicated balance between tracking performance metrics and protecting the self-esteem of their players. These younger players, coaches and parents would still be able to use the system effectively, but would need to do so by limiting the amount of data visible to the parents and players through coach and parental controls. Because of this potential limitation, they are not considered the primary focus.) Different aspects of the project would cater to the various subsets of this demographic, such as coaching staff, parents, players, and community members/fans—of these users, I am focusing on two main groups: 1) parents and fans who wish to view and contribute to a running conversation of user-supplied data (in the form of game photos, comments, and videos); and 2) coaches, players and coach-minded parents who wish to track the performance of the team and its individual players in higher fidelity through the collection of statistics that they currently do not have the ability to measure or record.

The Impetus

Personal Origins

I arrived at this area of study through a serendipitous coming together of many of my lifelong interests. The general domain of data visualization and web design and development was the perfect combination of my experience in visual arts, design, math, economics, statistics, and coding—but the ultimate decision to pursue a thesis relating this domain to girls lacrosse took another leap. I wanted to find a user group that was already invested in the pursuit of better data capture and interpretation, (which describes essentially all athletic activities), but also wanted to find a user group with which I had personal experience that could better inform my designs. Girls’ lacrosse in particular is a small, albeit growing, sport that I have spent close to the last 20 years either playing, coaching, or both, making it a perfect fit. Through my thesis I can bring my mission to create clean, easy-to-use data collection and visualization interfaces to a community that has given so much to me over the course of my life, and which is still young enough that I might even have a chance of returning the favor.

Big Picture Significance

The significance of my research and thesis project span a few different areas, but is ultimately rooted in the idea of bringing sophisticated statistics tracking tools to a user group that could benefit greatly from their use but who currently do not have access to any comparable services.

Why It’s Important: For the majority of sporting events, winners are determined by having either the most or least of a certain statistic. But these top-level statistics are not the only ones that matter to the athlete; to be able to achieve that level of accomplishment in a sport, the athlete has to train not only hard, but also intelligently—and an intelligent training plan requires the athlete to assess their own personal strengths or weaknesses and then continuously track their progress in case any adjustments need to be made. This process can be done partially without the use of precise statistics, but general observation can only get you so far—and is always relative. When you need to know with 100% certainty that your running times have been decreasing, or confirm that your pitching accuracy is worse on curve balls than sliders (but perhaps only during the later innings), or compare your own progress with that of your biggest competitors, objectively collected (and sport-wide acknowledged) data is the only way to get a conclusive answer.

Why the current system needs to change: The current statistics tracking infrastructure hinges largely on the use of paper score sheets and is incredibly complicated, which leads to teams not even tracking the amount of data they feasibly could. In my three seasons of coaching youth lacrosse, I was fortunately able to evade scorekeeping duties thanks to a group of eager parent volunteers, but the fact that I preferred to avoid it speaks volumes. A coach should want to keep track of her players’ progress with as much detail as possible, and should consistently consult that data throughout the season in order to inform their practice plans and game strategy. I, on the other hand, did not once consult one of the chicken-scratch score sheets in any of those three seasons. The information they contained was minimal, hastily jotted down, and in many cases incomplete for stats other than goals and assists. These score sheets served as the mandated official records of the game (which require only the roster and total goals scored) and not much else.

The benefit of bringing this technology to a wider audience. Much research has been done into the benefits of tracking objectively collected performance data in order to maximize athletic potential. Athletes require objective feedback to be able to know where they currently stand as well as what goals they can hope to achieve (Hughes, 2008). This system of monitoring progress toward a set of measurable attainable goals is a critical factor in maintaining proper levels of motivation and focus in the athletes and coaches.

Making sophisticated statistics tracking available to teams without the financial backing and clout of a professional or otherwise high-profile team could increase the quality of coaching and training for athletes earlier in their sports career, and follows the model of the ever-increasing number of elite sports training camps (such as the huge number of Nike camps) that many youth and high school players attend during the summer to bolster their training. These camps bring together successful athletes who have the financial resources to register for, travel to, and attend these camps to study and train under the coaching leadership of some of the top college and professional coaches in the nation. Bringing some of the resources that athletes might find at one of these elite camps to teams of all age and skill levels would allow more athletes to experience even a small portion of this type of experience; this would better prepare them to advance their skills to the next level while simultaneously making them feel one step closer to being an “elite” athlete in a way that could boost their confidence and increase their motivation to work hard.

In addition, having a greater range of performance data supplied through sensor-driven passive data collection could improve the training and performance of athletes by increasing the number of feedback points from which they can glean information. By tracking a larger number of statistics, the athletes (and coaches) would have more information at their disposal to fine-tune their training plans, and the wider gamut of feedback points would be more likely to evoke pride a) in a wider range of athletes with varying skill sets, or b) more frequently for a single athlete. This combination of accuracy and motivating ability would allow the information collected to improve both the performance and emotional experience of the athletes being tracked.

Appendix

Throughout the thesis process, I have been constantly trying to synthesize my analytical and technical interests with my more emotional or visceral interests. The following quotes represent two ends of that spectrum in ways that are exciting in their own ways—the first appealing to my rampant inner nerd, the second to my soft spot for the sport that has so deeply shaped my life. Whenever I find myself doubting my ability to contribute to the bigger picture, I reread the introductory words of Mike Hughes and Ian Franks’ book on notational analysis and remind myself that if I am truly able to change the way that girls’ lacrosse is collected, notated, visualized and analyzed, then that could potentially effect change in the lacrosse community—and perhaps in other sports as well. And if I get overwhelmed, I just try to think about the meaningful impact that sports can have on people’s lives and let my desire to share that feeling with girls that are just discovering the sport drive me forward.

 

On notational analysis:

“For anyone who wishes to understand their own sport, and thereby the structure and tactics of other sports, there is no better way of understanding the real logic behind the structure of the game. The more coaches and layers that come to understand that notation systems are going to improve players’ performance, their team’s performance and especially the coaches’ performance, then the better for sport in general.”

Mike Hughes and Ian M. Franks, Experts in sports data and notational analysis

 

On the emotional power of women’s lacrosse:

“I am thankful for this small yellow lacrosse ball. Though small and generic when first seen, it has become a lifeline of sorts to me. It holds the power of friendship, family, livelihood, and molded many of the truths I hold dear. […]
That ball allowed me to meet so many people. It allowed me the opportunity to play the game of lacrosse where I was constantly surrounded by teammates, many of whom have become great friends. […]
It is this little yellow ball that I am thankful for, for it has given me more than I can ever give it.“

Sue Heether, Head Coach of the US Elite Team and Three-Time World Cup Champion

view this post!