‘The National Football League (NFL) is 17 weeks long mega festival with 256 games to complete a full season. When you add in the pre-season, playoffs, and Super Bowl, which equates to more than 50,000 plays on the field. With 22 players on the field, each generating information about their position, pace, acceleration, and more, millions of data points could be used to give players and fans new insights.
In December 2019, at AWS re:Invent National Football League (NFL) announced their partnership with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to use the data collected from the league’s Next Gen Stats technology to apply artificial intelligence and machine learning for the prevention of injuring to players during the games. The new platform will be used to build what the NFL calls the “Digital Athlete” platform, a simulation of an NFL player used to simulate real game scenarios without any risk to athletes.
This announcement comes at the right time in the era of increasing injury incidents; As the latest report from NFL on injuries showcase that on an average of 6-7 injuries occurred per game in the 2018 season. The NFL is planning to deploy the new technology to tackle the issues, like playing rules, facilities, and rehabilitation and recovery strategies. Now, NFL teams are hoping the partnership will enable them to predict the injuries and prevent them before it happens.
Data Analysis for Injury Prevention
In 2019, the NFL celebrated its 100th anniversary. The sport has been evolved dramatically since its inception in 1919, upgrading almost every facet of the game, including equipment, rules, and recording statistics.
Recently, the committee members of NFL have decided to extend their partnership with Zebra Technologies Corporation through 2021. The official partner of on-field player tracking devices, and create a converging point between technology and athleticism. To monitor the player performance during an NFL game, Zebra Technologies developed Next Gen Stats, a player and ball tracking system. Now, they have installed RFID chips in players’ equipment, footballs, and across the stadium to transmit real-time position, speed, and acceleration for every play run during games and practice.
During the 2019 NFL season, Zebra embed 1,700 tags on player equipment and 20,000 tags on football, taking their technology to every team of NFL.
These RFID chips will help the team coach during the injury rehabilitation of their players. They can track the performances of players’ during practice and matches. It will also allow them to monitor the fitness levels of players. This data can be utilized as their pre-injury data. It will enable them to track their recovery from a long term injury to ensure when they will be game-ready.
For instance, a player had a broken or sprained ankle and not able to hit the ground they used to. Then, you know foot isn’t 100% recovered, so you can allow the injured player to continue their rehab and get back to the field as soon as possible.
Collaborating on the prevention of concussions or even severe injuries
In a recent press release, The NFL stressed the importance of the program in studying-and potentially preventing-one of the most severe injuries to its athletes: concussions.
“AWS and the NFL will also collaborate to develop computer vision models using Amazon SageMaker, Amazon SageMaker Ground Truth, and Amazon Rekognition to advance the ability to detect concussions and identify the forces that cause them,” the released noted. “Any techniques developed to detect and prevent concussion may also be capable of being extended to reduce a wide range of injuries. Any reductions, especially in concussions and lower extremity injuries, could have a potentially profound effect on player safety.”
Injury prediction is more challenging and complex than weather forecasting because there are so many factors that may lead to potential injury, from the physical attributes of the athlete on a given day to the minor divots on the ground. Their research shows that one athlete might have five characteristics that put them at risk of injury and still don’t get injured, while another may look perfectly good and tear the ligament the next day.
However, work still needs to be done. Over time program could gain a more in-depth insight into injuries by adding capabilities to gather data on how hard body parts are affected. Although the Digital Athlete partnership program has rooms for improvement, if it has proven effective, this work could continue to revolutionize injury prevention for all athletes, including those outside the NFL.