It’s long been said practice makes perfect. But what National Football League (NFL) teams including the New Orleans Saints have started to realize is that “actionable decision data” is the key to facilitating a perfect practice plan – and optimal game-day performance. But not just any data. It must be perfect data. “Exact enough” isn’t good enough in a “game of inches,” says Saints Coach Sean Payton.
As he reminded us when we sat down for the latest episode of the Your Edge podcast: the NFL is part of a “teaching industry,” and both coaches and players are constantly on the lookout for ways to be more efficient and learning how to improve outcomes relative to the science of the sport. The human eye doesn’t have the capacity to capture the types of information needed to balance player workloads, optimize training, or adjust sleep and diet. Nor do coaching staffs have time to manually aggregate and analyze the volumes of data that could be extracted from a single game tape in order to drive widespread improvements in player development or team strategy throughout the season.
That’s why he called Zebra.
What Kickstarted the Drive for Data
Coach Payton started noticing an uptick in injuries but couldn’t pinpoint the cause. Game and practice film, the long-established standard reference resource for evaluating player and team performance, wasn’t giving him the full picture of what was happening on the field, especially during practices. So, he started looking for other ways to measure factors such as player participation in various types of training activities as well as overall exertion level and workload – informational elements which are critical in assessing player and team development as they strive for peak performance. He wanted to understand how to balance the workload and ensure equal contributions among the group for both injury prevention and practice efficiency purposes.
Then Coach Payton learned that Zebra offers a simple way to collect, analyze and apply relative to several practice and game-day scenarios. As the Official On-Field Player-Tracking Provider for the NFL, Zebra uses radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to feed player and ball-related data to teams as well as fans via the NFL’s Next Gen Stats experience.
After realizing the system was scalable to the practice field, analytics-oriented clubs such as the Saints immediately started equipping their facilities, players, and equipment with the sensor-based data capture technologies.
What Coach Payton has since learned about his team, players and prospects will amaze you! Key performance indicators now extend far beyond a player’s speed, reach, yards, or agility.
You might be even more surprised at how he expects RFID technology to revolutionize the NFL in the next few years. (No more chains? New baseline criteria for player procurement decisions? More efficient ways to chart opponents? Easier officiating?)
Listen to our 30-minute conversation now to get the scoop on all these things and more, including the one “problem” he sees with having so much data at his fingertips at all time: