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Surrounded by data but starved for insights was how one speaker during a social media webinar I attended last week characterized today’s business environment. My reaction was well, that depends on what market you’re in. Take sports, long a statistical stronghold beloved by coaches armed with long lists of numbers (think: Billy Beane immortalized in the baseball film Moneyball), and video replays.

Rigorous analyses of historical performance and other factors may still have its place, but savvy sports teams like the German Bundesliga football club TSG 1899 Hoffenheim are blazing the path to a new era of insights based on real-time data for the organization’s under-19 youth team. Here’s how it works.

Sensors placed inside each player’s shin guards and clothing, on the training pitch, (known as the playing field in North American parlance), and the ball transmit live data to SAP’s in-memory computing solution, SAP HANA. The technology uses spatial analytics to measure everything going on in the field real-time, delivering precision insights to coaches and players via a 3-D display on mobile devices. In fact, according to blogger Ryan Somers, in a single football match, over 60 million positional records can be streamed, analyzed, and stored using the SAP HANA platform. This includes how fast a player travels down the field, how long he keeps the ball, where he starts dribbling, or how long it takes to score. Coaches can combine these various data points for individualized and team performance snapshots. In addition, coaches have tested Google Glass to check the exact speed of individual players as they move.

In a sport where speed and aggression rule, instantaneous understanding of what’s taking place on the field literally changes the game. What’s more, real-time data turns the concept of practice and training on its head. Coaches no longer have to rely only on hindsight to guide the team. Players can immediately see why a certain play didn’t work—or did. In this video, head coach Julian Nagelsmann explains how he uses the data to monitor reaction times and aggressiveness, guiding players to make adjustments for peak performance long before they arrive at game day as a professional.

He particularly appreciates the software’s simplicity. “Everybody who is familiar with Facebook or other social networks will find this easy to use. It’s a very simple interface for someone like me, who’s at home on the pitch and not on the computer, can work with very, very easily. And I can use the data without substantial training,” says Nagelsmann.

Bernhard Peters, director of the team’s Sport and Youth Academy, says that TSG 1899 Hoffenheim is an innovative club aimed at promoting “young players to play attractive, bold, and courageous football.” Using technology innovations like SAP HANA, Peter’s organization is at the forefront of the next Big Data juggernaut. They can replace guesswork with real-time facts that matter to the business at hand, in this case, training a winning football player.

Follow me @smgaler

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