Conference 2021: Women’s sport – the statistics supporting success

This conference session, organised by Bev Hale for the Statistics in Sport section, was led by three knowledgeable and entertaining speakers who drew on their experiences to provide very different perspectives on how statistics support women athletes to success.

Dr Naomi Datson, a reader in the Institute of Sport and Dr Sarah Needham-Beck, a research fellow in exercise physiology, both from the University of Chichester, provided insight into the use of statistics in women’s football and in dance, and Lucy Onyeforo, legal associate at Dorsey & Whitney LLP in New York and formerly part of the GB women’s bobsleigh team, provided an athlete’s perspective on how statistics influenced her transition from track athlete to women’s bobsleigh.

Sarah provided an informative and enlightening insight into the demands of the professional dancer in terms of the hours spent training, learning roles and performing on tour. She presented graphs and data illustrating how some dance companies produce a composite score to represent the demand placed on each dancer. These scores can be used to regulate lighter and heavier performance demands while on tour with the aim of reducing the risk of injury. Sarah explained that research in professional dance is in its infancy and that there are more questions than answers, not least around the kinds of data to collect and how best to analyse them to benefit the dancers. She provided a tantalising glimpse of current developments and we hope to follow this with another dance related session at next year’s conference.

Lucy joined us by video link from USA and gave a personal account of how statistical data influences the selection of potential bobsleigh athletes. Lucy did not begin to concentrate on high level athletics until she went to university to study law. She told how she soon became part of the national athletics squad with a particular skill in sprint events. Lucy explained that her physique made her capable of an explosive start and acceleration and that her performance data brought her to the attention of those responsible for the women’s bobsleigh team. Her explosive power, strength and speed were deemed very suitable for a ‘brakewoman’ - the person who pushes the sleigh at the start of a run. Lucy outlined the selection tests and how data were used to build a profile of a promising brakewoman athlete – but pointed out that none of that mattered unless you can jump into the moving sleigh accurately!

The session contributions were concluded by Naomi who gave an overview of how statistics are used in women’s soccer. Naomi showed how statistics inform four key areas; physical, social technical/tactical and psychological (the four corner model). During her presentation she focussed on the physical and technical/tactical corners of the model, showing the range of physical measures that have been researched and providing specific examples from her own research to show how the variables translate into selection. Naomi included some examples of how technical and tactical data have been used through data driven approaches, using many variables, rational approaches, using data seen as relevant to coaches, and research literature driven approaches to seek determinants of successful play. Naomi’s presentation showed the extent to which data modelling influences selection, coaching and success in women’s soccer and suggested some interesting proposed future developments.

Bev Hale is chair of the Statistics in Sport section and professor at the University of Chichester where she teaches research design and statistics in the Institute of Sport, Nursing and Allied Health.

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