The Future in Developing Judoka: Sport Analytics

By Joshua Hagen

I am a huge baseball fan.  My grandmother and grandfather were both big Blue Jays fans, and I got to watch the Blue Jays win the World Series in back to back years when I was only 10 and 11 years old.  What I love most about baseball though, is the brilliant minds that have driven the sport, giving birth to sport analytics. I am sure many of you have heard of Moneyball as an incredible book and later, a Hollywood movie.  What you may not be aware of, however, is how far back the history of baseball analytics goes. In 1912, Major League Baseball (MLB) starting tracking how many runs a pitcher allowed during a game, and tracking it for an entire season (ERA).  They changed the way they tracked batting average (how often you get a hit) back in 1887! The current system of separating walks from hits started in 1888. These guys were practicing the analytical study of baseball before judo was even born.  

Jimmy Key, Blue Jay 1984-1992

Analytics is so ingrained in baseball that the most casual of fans now refers to a player’s WHIP, ERA, and Sluggin pct. The use of data literally molds the sport.  It shapes how they develop athletes, how they identify talent, and it leads to revolutionary changes every couple of years. Through analytics, the “value” of a baseball player is constantly redefined. They know what they’re about, too: baseball’s Pittsburgh Pirates took a Moneyball-like approach, using analytics to finally break a 20 year playoff drought, documented in the book Big Data Baseball.  

Judo, like most other sports, didn’t even know where to start with data collection.  Then, in 2000, former French National team member and current Head Coach of BC, Canada, Jeremy Lebris, did a study over a four year period, from 1996-2000.  His focus was on posture, grip scheme, movement, and success of techniques. In particular, he sought to define a country profile by recording what series of techniques they used, and how they gripped.  In this way, he found it possible to acertain the key to each country’s success. If he knew why a country or athlete was successful, then he could prepare for them accordingly, Lebris decided.

He presented his study to the French Judo Federation (FFJ) including Thierry Loison, who took a particular interest in his work.  Loison later created Match Analysis. In my opinion, Loison’s studies from 2012 to the current year are groundbreaking.  I have referred to them in multiple blogs, and to say that they’ve impacted my coaching is an understatement.

As I see it, the next step in the judo coach’s evolution is to be able to get sound, accurate data on our own athletes, so that we can objectively look at their development as judoka.  Without data, you’re working only on gut instinct, which can be deceiving. If you have a large number of atheletes, it’s nearly impossible to keep track of all of their areas of strength and of need. Judo coaches have had the difficult task of flying blind for all these years.  

Enter Nicklas Björklund of Sweden, father of 5 and a judoka. Björklund saw the need for analytics for the judo development of his own children, and created Athlete Analyzer. He finished developing this amazing app just over 3 years ago with the support and cooperation of the Swedish National Judo Team.  They now use Athlete Analyzer in all levels of their development.  Björklund and his team are so commited to the project that they will train new users  for free and are constantly updating and upgrading the program. When you “tag” the action in the match, you can just jump to those moments in the match for future video analysis.  It allows you to pull up all matches against a particular opponent in one click. It shows you the winning percentage of your athletes, which techniques they throw with the most, and from what grip, as well as which tecniques have caught you in the past.  You can also track and build your athletes training schedule for them to check off as they go.

I’ve  just recently started using Athlete Analyzer, and have only done so with one athlete as of yet, but the potential I see in it is almost limitless.  With the NHL, the NBA, and other professional sports leagues starting to use analytics, and more and more judo coaches taking notice of their athletes’ data, it’s just a matter of time before analytics will be the key to anyone’s success as a coach, in any sport. If you believe in numbers, I think this app is a pretty handy tool to have in your kit in this age of information.



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