Sports analysts, doctors to speak about statistics, sports medicine in new interdisciplinary class

Grant Nussbaum

Within the next month, analytics consultant and Long Beach Wilson football coach Tim Chou, co-owner of the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies Steve Kaplan (Madeline ’14, Leo ’16) and Grizzlies’ Vice President of Basketball Operations John Hollinger, on Nov. 15., will all speak to and work with the Sports and Statistics class on the subject of sports analytics.

In its inaugural year as a Kutler Center or Interdisciplinary Studies course, Sports and Statistics has consisted of students performing statistical investigations in the field of either sports medicine or sports analytics. The course is centered around a blog on which all the students’ investigations are posted.

The three analytics experts will follow four sports medicine and orthopedic doctors from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles who spoke to the class last month about conducting research in sports and sports medicine.

Chou was one of eight finalists who presented his project for the “Evolution of Sport” contest at this year’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan Sports Conference, an annual sports analytics convention which course instructor and math teacher Bill Thill attended this past February. Chou’s project entailed creating a new measurement of efficiency in college football.

“I asked him about the sports analytics side because I wasn’t familiar, and I told him about this course, which was already under way,” Thill said. “He was thrilled when I asked him to be a part of it, and we met a couple times this summer to think and plan ideas about how he can come to talk. He’s even posted comments on some of our students’ blog posts already.”

Hollinger, who will visit the class on Nov. 15, was an analyst and writer for ESPN before Kaplan hired him to work for the Memphis Grizzlies. Hollinger is arguably most known for inventing the Player Efficiency Rating basketball statistic, a metric used to quantify a player’s overall contributions on the court.

Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles doctors Nina Lightdale and J. Lee Pace visited the classes Sept. 24, as did doctors Tracy Zaslow and Bianca Edison  Sept. 27.

Pace discussed the process of gathering and analyzing data for a research project, and Lightdale elaborated with examples of her own research in the area of athletes’ hand injuries.

Zaslow and Edison also continued addressing methods of sports research, and gave students feedback on potential project ideas.

All four doctors also answered questions concerning athletic injuries and sports medicine.

Thill, who has been in contact with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles about the course since last April, feels the CHLA doctors’ visits brought unique, valuable insight to students interested in sports medicine.

“Often when you have special guests presentations, it’s very hit or miss,” Thill said. “If they know the students and they care about the students taking something away from it, they can prepare something very effective. The doctors and I had really talked a lot about the things that they wanted to get out of it and we wanted to get out of it early on. They put in a lot of work on presentations and plans to work with kids. So now, when students are going to be working individually with those doctors, there’s a common language and common experiences.”

Thill hopes the speakers will serve as mentors that the students can look to for guidance on their sports medicine or sports analytics projects.

“The role of the professionals is to give students another adult who knows the field, and just connect with them,” Thill said.

“They know what matters most. They may know good ways to design a study, they may know good numbers or metrics to use, to measure defensive efficiency or some other qualitative athletic performance that isn’t in the typical box scores,” Thill said. “Their experiences as coaches, as sports analysts, or as researchers give us special insight that no single teacher like myself could necessarily provide.”