It’s been said that it’s better to be lucky than good, but what if you could increase your chances of being lucky? Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant seemed to be on the right track about increasing your luck when he said, “luck is where opportunity meets preparedness.” In football, that means spending a significant amount of time devising a solid game plan. Not only must coaches and players consider a vast array of options between their offense, defense, positioning, and formation tactics, but they also must think about these variables in terms of what they’re up against for each team they play. As such, good teams will watch hours of film a day in order to find out as much as they can about their opponent. What plays did they run? When did they run them? How effective were they?
However, there is more to the success against, and predictability of, an opponent than what is on film. There are also variables that change every day, and from week to week. For example, what plays are run at home on real grass compared to away games on artificial turf? What about away games on natural grass when it rained earlier in the morning? Then there are the individual participants themselves. How healthy is the other team’s middle linebacker after he tweaked his knee two weeks ago? Has he been off it, or out with his teammates at night? Will he be able to run his usual 4.8-second 40-yard dash, or will he slow down to 5.1 seconds?
All of these are variables that are difficult for a single person to calculate. However, it is becoming easier thanks to the emergence of cognitive computing. This type of technology is most notably showcased with IBM’s Watson, which can do more than just win at Jeopardy; Watson has gone on to be a major player in the healthcare industry, and its talents are now being used to fight cancer. So how does it work? In essence, a cognitive computer like Watson is enabled by data mining, pattern recognition (finding similarities in analyzed data), and natural language processing (converting speech into commands and data). While this sounds straightforward, the complexity of this technology and the enormity of its potential has caused IBM and passionate developers to create an entire conference called World of Watson, dedicated to nothing more than the potential of cognitive computing.
In football terms, Watson would be able to perform data mining by taking into account every game that has ever been played by the opposing quarterback, corner back, left tackle and even the long snapper, and break down their performance in extremely specific conditions such as weather, location, health, time of the game and who else is on the field just to name a few. With this knowledge, Watson would be able to analyze patterns in real time and predict what play the opposing team will run, and how to be successful against it. For example, if your team is up 4, and it’s 3rd and 7 in the third quarter on a breezy, rainy, 50 degree day where the left guard injured his ankle in the first quarter, and the quarterback is 18 for 27 in passing attempts, they’ll likely run a draw to the right hand side between the tackles.
Knowing how to account for these incremental changes in the game could be the difference between stopping that draw or going for a first down. No matter if it is in football or business, the more you know and can be prepared for, the greater competitive advantage you’ll have. So, while it may be better to be lucky than good, the opportunities for preparation that cognitive computing provides to predict outcomes correctly can ensure that you are good at being lucky.