Analysis and Synthesis: UC San Diego's Sport Performance Reaches Its Peak

La Jolla, California - When Lauren Green walked into his office at the Alex G. Spanos Athletic Performance Center on Thursday afternoon, he was not coming from a team practice or a competition; Green was returning from the University of California San Diego Supercomputer Center. The Sports Performance Analyst was fired up about a talk regarding workplace education and implementing new technology.

Although there is a common misperception about a divide between academics and athletics, the Triton sports performance department is all about embracing the integration of data and athletics. With its combination of high-performing athletic teams and rigorous academics, UC San Diego is a perfect institution for a data-driven sports performance department.

“We’ve got a bunch of smart people on this campus that are great problem solvers,” Green lauded. “We just need to unify our resources and someone will say ‘Oh, we can just make that for you’ instead of us having to wait for something to come out in the stratosphere of technology.”

To understand how the Triton sports performance department is pushing the boundaries of campus synthesis and analysis, it is important to first comprehend the role that sports performance plays in college athletics. Green suggests thinking of student-athletes as having a performance spectrum with a positive and a negative side. They start at zero, with the negative side referring to injuries. When injuries strike, athletic trainers step in. For sports performance coaches, it is all about the other side of the spectrum.

“Sports performance is ‘How do we shift you to positive and give you a new baseline?’,” Green explained. “We’re looking for constant stimuli that will get [student-athletes] to be adapting, adapting, adapting so the baseline of that spectrum is moving more positive.”

Student-athletes of all 23 Triton teams frequently work with the UC San Diego sports performance staff to improve that baseline. What they often do not see, though, is the thought that is put into pinpointing what techniques and information will be utilized. Green refers to his position as somewhat of a “sports science role” with the department, as he identifies what is in the latest research and streamlines it to make it applicable to student-athletes.

That research aspect of Green’s duties is relatable to many departments on campus, which made it a natural decision to pursue relationships with other data-driven UC San Diego organizations. The sports performance department has already begun conversations with the Halıcıoğlu Data Science Institute. Green approached the institute with clear goals in mind.

“One of the initial things… is creating a software platform that will be a depository for our data from different programs,” Green recounted of his goals. “We can start to collect and correlate [the data] to on-court, or on-field, or in-the-water performance, and start seeing where key performance indicators are.”

While the sports performance department is excited to utilize relationships with the Halıcıoğlu Data Science Institute and other UC San Diego organizations to better their student-athletes, they believe that it will be mutually beneficial. Green knows, for example, that some of the technology they utilize could be created by the UC San Diego engineering department. That could benefit the athletic department, and it would present a unique opportunity for the engineering department as well.

“It could be a great project for students on campus to work with, as they’d get valuable experience on their résumés,” Green explained. “It’s also going to have direct implications on our athletic department … We don’t have to go and pay thousands of dollars to an outside company.” 

The relationship offers short-term benefits, but the sports performance department has high expectations for the long-term implications as well.

“We could have years of collaboration with the engineering department or the data science department or whatnot,” Green projected. “We could be at the forefront and have proprietary things here that are pushing the field outside of campus, that are changing the sports performance world.”

In the present, it is a unique time for the UC San Diego athletic department, as all of its sports will transition to the Division I level by 2020. From a sports performance perspective, they believe they are undoubtedly ready for the challenge.

“There’s no question that we’ll be [ready for the Division I level],” Green stated confidently. “Just having our resources that are available, I think we’re well equipped. It’s just a matter of us having direction and everyone being unified.”

Head Coach Colin Truex of the women’s rowing team believes that the sports performance department is not only ready for Division I, but will be instrumental in helping the Triton teams succeed at that higher level.

“A data-driven sports performance department provides the student-athletes not only individualized information about their performance, it gives them a competitive edge when it comes to training,” Truex said. “Having data sets that will show the athletes what their relative strengths and weaknesses are is vital for improvement and maximizing potential.”

UC San Diego’s performance at the Division I level will largely be impacted by its recruiting. The sports performance department feels that their analytic approach gives the Tritons an edge.

“We’ll have objective numbers to show how our athletes are getting better, to show athlete development and progression,” Green explained. “When a high school athlete comes in and goes, ‘Where am I going to be in three or four years?’ We can say, ‘This is what we’ve done with these athletes; you can see it.’… We’re at a good point where we can show there’s personalization without prejudice or biases… Any athlete we bring in is going to have the same resources to get better.”

Between the recruiting aspect, the Division I preparation, the focus on data and the desire to create a collaborative environment on campus, it all comes down to one simple thing for the UC San Diego sports performance department: being the best they can be.

“We’re all trying to perform at the highest level and that’s what trickles down to the athletes,” Green summarized. “They learn from that and hopefully that carries with them through life… That to me is a sign of a really great program, when that philosophy carries with them.”