Digital transformation is all about how technology integrates into organisational processes and ecosystems. As Official Performance Insight Partner to ECB Women’s Cricket, we spoke with Anna Warren, Head of Science and Medicine, and Dr Thamindu Wedatilake, Lead Physician with England Women’s Cricket to find out more about ECB’s initiatives to harness the potential of data to improve performance in the women’s game.
What kind of challenges have ECB faced in embracing data?
A: Our challenges are quite simple, but very hard to solve. Elite sport is a very chaotic and fast-paced environment, and trying to coordinate your data, make sure it’s of good quality, and then organising it all in one place is a big challenge. We have a huge cohort of practitioners that we work with, not just at England level, but in our domestic structure as well. Our main challenge is getting everyone together and taking them on that journey to buy into the way of organising data in one place.
T: Using data means people have to buy into a process, and that is the hardest bit. It requires having good systems in place, which is why we are now working with Ascent.
Do you think data has an important role in driving equality in cricket?
T: Not just in cricket, but across the board too. If you put ‘wrong’ data in that doesn’t represent what you do, you will get wrong results.
A: It’s really relevant to women’s cricket. A lot of the research across science and medicine is based on male athletes. In order for us to really start understanding female cricketers and how we can better support and coach them, we have to be quite forward-thinking in terms of how we collect data. This will allow us to effectively inform our practitioners of the best approach to support these players.
As we are helping you build pitch-side, single-source analytics to provide useful insight, what is the outcome you are hoping to achieve?
T: It’s important for us to get that data structure organised, ensuring simple good inputs to data structure and, as a result, good outputs. Once you get those basics in place, then we can look at more innovative things and funky analytics. We’re really excited about the work we do with Ascent – whilst you concentrate on technology, we can start working with practitioners to get them into buying into the process.
A: We’ve got a brand-new domestic structure where suddenly a lot of female cricketers are playing at the top level. Therefore, we need to quickly understand what their needs are, where the gaps are, and how we can support them to be really good in the game. Having a system in place to help us identify where we’re going to put resources or invest more funding is key, and while this structure is growing rapidly, we’ve got something alongside it where we have some objective data to back up our decisions.
What’s the most interesting or unexpected thing that data has uncovered for you so far?
A: A lot of projects in cricket tend to be quite specialised and relatively niche. We’ve seen innovation in physical things, like cricket helmets and other kit, however it’s mostly based on male cricketers. For example, throwing-related arm pain is a common injury, and if you base your physiotherapy, injury prevention or physical preparation predominantly on male data, you probably won’t create the right outcome for female cricketers.
T: Looking at it from the mental health and wellbeing perspective, the psychosocial and emotional aspects are also very different. Having that insight can hopefully make the journey for female cricketers much smoother.
Do you think that data is equally useful in supporting mental health and wellbeing, or do you think it still needs to be handled one-on-one with people?
T: It’s a bit of both. A lot of the work we do with elite cricketers is individualised and tailored to their needs - that’s how they improve. There’s a real performance focus. But equally there are certain trends that come out of a similar population. Mental health is a good example of where you get similar traits and trends. But there’s too much data focused on male cricketers only which coaches tend to base their decisions on, so having the new data trends on female cricketers coming through is quite critical to ensure correct approach to their mental health and wellbeing issues.
A: The app we’re building at the moment already captures some wellbeing data that we use to support our players that allows us to have an open dialogue with them. But technology is certainly not a replacement for a one-to-one relationship that we have with players, so you have to have a bit of both.
You mentioned the mobile application you’re building that collects data. What are you trying to achieve with it?
A: We’re looking to capture the basic information from our players and the key things we need to support them on the ground – that includes wellbeing monitoring and workload information. What’s important about the app is that the players not only can input data, but they also get some really good feedback on some of the tests we do with them, as well as the ability to track their progress over time and their GPS information. So, the ultimate goal is to make it a really exciting app for both coaches and the players.
T: One thing we’ve always liked about Ascent’s approach is the customer focus – Anna and I as well as some of our players always had the option to get involved in the process. Our athletes feel a part of the journey as they got a prototype back and reviewed it before anybody else did. They are buying into the process which hopefully means they’ll continue using it and extend the app’s longevity.
Which general technologies excite you in the field of cricket that will have the most impact in the next few years?
T: What really excites coaches from the cricket perspective is simplifying decision-making. For example, if something’s subtly changed during a match day in the game, which cannot be picked up by our human mind, having access to the data and insights that come through technology like Ascent gives us that edge in sport and medicine. And from a coaching perspective, we’d want to have the edge to win games.
What advice would you give to any other organisation starting out on their data journey?
T: This data is live and it’s our future. It’s important that organisations buy into this process. Every company has a responsibility to their employees to go on that journey, and it certainly can help support them. For me as a doctor, knowing and understanding women’s cricket means I can improve their health, and it creates an equal, diverse and inclusive society where data is properly analysed, and as a result, correct conclusions are made.
A: Make sure you think about the end-user and how anything you put in place can make their lives easier. We’ve had some great examples already from the Ascent project where we were able to automate processes to save time for practitioners and free them up to focus more on innovative work. Finally, it’s important to have the backing of leadership and ensure you bring all departments along with you. We’re lucky to have a very progressive director of cricket, Jonathan Finch, who’s been forward-thinking and instrumental in getting this project off the ground. In a nutshell, think about the end-user and bring everyone along on that journey with you to get the most out of it.
Focusing on the end-user data is all about getting good outcomes. And often those outcomes are the most important to the end-users. Thank you very much for your time - it’s been a real pleasure talking to you!
If you enjoyed this Q&A, you can watch the full conversation with ECB and Ascent here.