The Importance of Using Data and Technology in the Player Development Process

By Jim Koerner

Data and technology are revolutionizing how competitive sports are being played. Teams and organizations are receiving and inputting data at lightning speed. In baseball, we’ve seen major advancements from how we evaluate and develop players to actual in-game decision making. In what, for decades, used to be a mostly subjective, feeling-involved occupation, baseball now applies real time data to all facets of the game. Let’s look at why data and technology are important, and how they can be added to your daily player development process.

10 benefits to Using Data and Technology in Your Player Development Plans:

1. Identifies Areas of Improvement:
All players have inefficiencies and areas that need improvement. Player development can be more efficient when these areas are identified through objective measures. What does good horizontal movement on a slider look like? Do the fastball and change-up have enough separation? Does the barrel spend enough time in the zone? The development process is only as good as the evaluation process. Technology helps ensure the efficiency and accuracy of these processes.

2. Reinforces Areas of Strength:
Not all player development lives in the world of what’s wrong. Reinforcing positive movement patterns is a strong developmental technique. The appropriate technology and data collection can assist in keeping players doing the right thing more often.

3. Strengthens Arguments for Change and Improves Communication:
Visual reinforcement is a powerful tool when communicating about adjustment with players. With the increased access to information across multiple media platforms, players can now be more informed than ever before. Factual data and visual recordings make the buy-in process more influential.

4. Allows For Real Time Feedback and Adjustments:
The ability to capitalize on teachable moments is priceless in the player development world. Having insistent feedback and replay on a singular pitch or swing can allow a player to make immediate adjustments. This is a place where the “real” vs. “feel” worlds can assimilate.

5. Ensures Accuracy:
There is nothing worse than being wrong when it comes to player development. To suggest a change and then spend countless hours working towards it, only to see minimal or zero return can be debilitating. Sensors, apps, ball tracking devises, and video review keep us going in the right direction.

6. Tracks Progress:
Simply put, there is no better way to track progress than through data collection. Data eliminates any subjective assessment of improvement, which is especially important if the actual need for improvement doesn’t exist.

7. Separates Style from Technique:
There are a lot of instructors/coaches that make changes with their players because of the way something looks. As long as style isn’t affecting technique, these adjustments aren’t necessary. Technology can help prevent coaches from making unnecessary changes.

8. Holds Players Accountable:
There are numerous ways accountability can play a role. A simple tool, such as a pocket radar, can immensely enhance the productivity of your batting practice. Having players take rounds that are within +/- 3 of their maximum is a great way to ensure proper intent with each swing.

9. Saves Time:
Beginning with the player evaluation, and continuing through the execution of the plan, all areas in baseball technology and data collection are quantified. If progress continues, the process continues, if progress stops, we adjust.

10. Enhances Overall Goal Setting Process:
Goal setting is crucial to producing results. A player or coach can’t manage what they can’t measure, and you can’t expect improvement is you can’t manage. The popular goal setting acronym S.M.A.R.T stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time sensitive. To execute this process without data and some type of corresponding technology to collect it, is difficult.

How to implement Data and Technology Through Goal Setting (S.M.A.R.T+)

*SMART+ is my way of adding an application method to the goal-setting process.

Let’s look at a fairly simple example. You have a player that’s new to your program. After a couple weeks of practice, you believe that your player sits on his back leg while hitting and produces a lot of unproductive fly balls. Since you’ve been using a bat sensor during your batting practice sessions, you now have two weeks' worth of data at your disposal. After reviewing the data, you conclude that the swing metrics match your observations. This player averages 15-18 degrees on his attack angle. Based on your players physical profile, you both agree its best if he could work in the 8-12 degree range. While you’re going to continue to monitor each swing on a daily basis (for coachable moments), after three weeks, it’s your belief he should be averaging at least in the upper ranges of the agreed upon range.

SMART+ Test:
(S)pecific- Yes, you and the player are focused on adjusting the attack angle of the swing to a range more suitable for his body type.
(M)easureable- Yes, you are using a bat sensor that provides quantitative data.
(A)ttainable- Yes, while his swing has some upward lift, he is not far from swinging in an ideal range for his body type.
(R)ealistic- Yes, your player is a good athlete that has shown an aptitude for adjustment.
(T)ime Sensitive- Yes, in three weeks you want to see this player consistently in the desired range.

Types of Technology and Data Collection

There is potential for data and technology collection within many types of programs. While it would be great if everyone could have Edgertronic Cameras, Rapsodo, or Trackman, budgetary concerns play a role.

Here are a few low budget options that would work for various programs:

- Stopwatch (the best piece of low-priced technology every coach should use)
- Radar Gun
- Pocket Radar
- Diamond Kinetic Pitch Tracker
- Bat sensors
- Hudl Technique app (one example of a cost-effective app you can get on your device)
- Smart Phone (video, camera, apps)
- Manual charts (if you can chart it, I recommend doing so)
- Player journals (goal tracking, weight gain/loss, nutrition habits, general well-being)

By applying the appropriate data and technology to our player development models, we can streamline the efficiency at which we work. As coaches, we owe it to our players to provide the best possible solutions to their developmental needs.

Jim Koerner is currently the Director of Player Development at USA Baseball. Koerner has 21 years of college coaching experience, including 18 years at the D1 level. He spent 13 years as a college head coach, with ten as an NCAA D1 head coach. Koerner has coached over 30 MLB draft or professional Free Agent Signees, 11 All-Americans, 4 Conference Players of the Year, 4 Conference Rookies of the Year, 2 Conference Pitchers of the Year, and over 60 All-Conference selections. Additionally, Koerner is a 2x Conference Coach of the Year and 2021 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Southern Division Champion..