Supported by Greenhaven Road Capital, finding value off the beaten path.

In March 2019, The Sloan Sports Analytics Conference was held in Boston. Rather than detailed notes, this page will be a table of contents for where to find more information.

Hunting for Unicorns had good sections on two key themes; competitive advantages and communicating well. Michael Lombardi asks, can you play left-handed? Good team construction, said Paul Pierce, is when a style of play is built around a team’s strengths, starting with the best player.

Much of the second half of the talk is Celtics Mike Zarren and Golden State’s Bob Meyers going back and forth about good communication. Meyers said, “You can’t hand your coach twenty pages on the second night of a back to back on the road. But you can slowly over time.” Zarren added, “This is always the point that gets made, how do you integrate analytics into your organization such that it doesn’t feel like something alien.”

Good communication is about ease. Pierce pointed out that the data he used was colored and visual. “The ease of video that just shows up on their iPad”, said Zarren, “and everyone is used to having technology around and watching video instantly all the time. So there are no technology humps so it’s just a matter of curating information you think the players need.”

Gladwell and Epstein talked about specialization vs variation in training. Gladwell notes about 10,000 hours, “I think I made an error. I conflated two separate things. Large amounts of practice is necessary but I thought that meant specialization which I now realize is false.”

He also told Stephen Dubner that the support for this commitment is curcial.

As NASA flight controller Gene Kranz noted, “Behind every great man is a woman – and behind her is the plumber, the electrician, the Maytag repairman, and one or more sick kids. And the car needs to go into the shop.”

Epstein’s newest book, Range fits in nicely with the idea of a mental model toolbox. Ophthalmologists, Gladwell said, “who take art history lessons and learn to look at works of art end up as better diagnosticians than those who spend extra time at the medical school.”

Kudos to Epstein for this book, because illogical ideas can be hard to adopt. As Rory Sutherland said, “It’s much easier to get fired for being illogical than unimaginative.”

Mike Leach spoke with Michael Lewis about pirates, pulling kickers out of the stands, and breaking into football. Leach is passionate about football, but passion can be a dangerous word. Especially when preceded by ‘Follow your’.

Leach put it this way, “Anything that you’re passionate about doesn’t feel quite like work. There are good days and bad days and you love it and hate it but you get consumed by it.

And, “Everybody thinks they want to be in football and they’re fascinated by football because they’ve watched a bunch of games but they don’t quite realize that you sit in a dark room like a caveman with a projector for hours on end running tape back and forth.”

When Magic Johnson told Michael Ovitz he wanted to be part of the business world as well as the sports world Ovitz asked if he read the newspaper. ‘Yes,’ said Magic. ‘What section?’ Ovitz asked. ‘Sports,’ said Magic. “Wrong answer. It’s gotta be the business section,” Ovitz replied, so he made Magic a deal. If Johnson read the business section and could talk about them a month later Ovitz would represent him. Magic did.

Bill Simmons and Adam Silver was good and a reminder how much of life is relative. What do NBA players have to be upset about? It all depends on the point-of-view.

The same day I watched this, I finished Beer Money a memoir from one-time beer heiress Frances Stroh. She wrote, “Striving for something gives life it’s meaning, regardless of whether we succeed or fail. The problem was, my father had never had to strive for anything.”

Silver also had a Ted Sarandos like mindset, noting that the NBA is one of many things that compete for attention. Even small English pubs compete with Netflix.

Data is the New Black touched on all the above issues and Mike Zarren again reminded people of the importance of culture and communication. “The communication of the information is as important, if not more important, than the actual quantitative work that you do.” The Two Pauls remind analysts that their job isn’t to find good investments but to find good investments and get those investments into the portfolio.

Maryann Turcke, Amy Howe, and Jessica Gelman all reinforce how much improvement can still be done. It feels like Moneyball was ages ago but there’s always new data to collect, clean, collate, and communicate.

Daryl Morey ran through the soccer talk in An American Analyst in London as he encouraged viewers not to hold too tightly to the status quo. “In basketball it was assumed that the best coaches with the best players were also using the best strategy but it could be they just had more talent.”

The trio also talked about identifying unconventional excellence. How do you find them? Winning follows them. Chuck Hayes and N’Golo Kante don’t have the physical traits that make them seem like excellent athletes, but their results suggest otherwise.


Happy streaming.

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